If Israel Banned Burqas
Picture this: Israel donates millions of shekels every year to various NGOs in Europe, e.g., in Germany, France the UK and Scandinavia, on condition that they further Israeli foreign policy agendas on European soil. Now imagine the reaction if that picture were actually true: We would all go deaf from the hysterical squealing and breast-beating that would ensue about Israel being undemocratic, imperialistic and using dirty tricks and manipulation in basically buying — because that is what it is — local NGOs in order to use them to promote its own causes on the European continent. If the Europeans passed laws to stop this from happening, everyone in the world would support them in doing so.
Not so when the roles are reversed.
”The new NGO law in Israel goes beyond legitimate needs of transparency, risks undermining our shared values” wrote the EU embassy in Israel on Twitter on Monday, after Israel’s new law, requiring the disclosure of foreign government funding of Israeli nongovernmental organizations, also known as the NGO law, was passed by the Knesset. The embassy tweet linked to the official statement of the EU, which went on to say that the law may curtail freedom of expression and association and risks undermining the values of democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society.
The EU statement is wrong on so many levels.
Firstly, the patronizing, arrogant-old-colonialist tone, implying that the EU gets to decide what does and does not go “beyond legitimate needs of transparency” in the sovereign State of Israel is unwarranted. Who died and made the EU the overseer of internal Israeli matters?
Secondly, it is a bit rich for the EU to lament the possibility of an “undermining” of “our shared values,” as the EU and Israel, as it happens, actually share preciously few, if any values, something that becomes apparent once you scratch the thin veneer of appearances.
Israel is indeed an extremely vibrant democracy, where free speech reigns supreme and where diversity is an actual fact, not a high-brow theory. The EU? Not so much.
The EU is an undemocratic, largely unelected, bureaucratic nightmare of a supranational entity. Its leaders, such as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, are accountable to no one. Free speech has long ago been de facto sacrificed in favor of an all-encompassing political correctness, which includes most recently the ill-concealed attempts at hammering into place those Central European member states that refuse to endorse the EUs migration policies. Last, but most importantly, democracies that share “our values” do not support terrorists, as the EU does by spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros on the terrorist-supporting and inciting Palestinian Authority, apparently in contravention of its own rules on aiding and abetting terrorism.
That the EU funds Israeli NGOs with the express aim of furthering a very specific and anti-Israeli EU agenda is beyond doubt. This can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the EU’s “Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU.” It follows from these guidelines that their ”aim is to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on the nonrecognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967.” Someone please explain what this insidious, anti-Israeli agenda has to do with “our values” such as diversity and democracy? As law professor Eugene Kontorovich has pointed out, Israeli NGOs only get funding from the EU if they declare that their activities promote EU foreign policy, and the EU agrees. This is not democratic and certainly not diverse. It is outrageous.
As Kontorovich has also pointed out, the Israeli law is comparable to the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, which only applies, in law and practice, to donations from foreign governmental actors and not, as critics of the Israeli law — groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now — falsely charge, equally to all sources of foreign funding.
Finally, you would be forgiven for asking whether entities that receive so much foreign government funding actually still qualify as nongovernmental organizations. Personally, I find their nongovernmental character rather dubious and their commitment to Israeli civil society highly questionable, when they let themselves be bought by foreign government entities in order to further those entities’ agendas.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, albeit not a member of the EU but a country just around the corner from it, the burqa has been banned in one of the cantons with fines as high as 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,200) for contravening the ban. Imagine the outcry if Israel were to ban the burqa: The EU would be all over the place, issuing statements condemning the move and lamenting and eulogizing the end of Israeli democracy. Most likely, the UN Security Council would have to convene for an emergency session to issue a resolution condemning Israeli attacks on cultural diversity.
As it is, since it is only Switzerland, neither the EU nor anyone else is showing notable concern. Move on, nothing to see here, Israel is not involved.
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. Twitter @judithbergman.