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Op-ed: EU NGO "Peace" Projects that Fuel Conflict, by Gerald M. Steinberg

May 11, 2006

An earlier version of this analysis was published in the European Jewish Press, 5 May 2006 under the title "Opinion: EU NGO "Peace" Projects That Fuel Conflict"

The quick and unqualified condemnation of the Palestinian terror attack in Tel Aviv by European officials demonstrates the major improvement that has taken place in relations with Israel.  In contrast, a few years ago, then Commissioner Chris Patten and other European officials routinely condemned Israel for acting to prevent terror, and Euro-MPs threatened boycotts.  In parallel, millions of Euros flowed into Arafat's pockets, and from there, to purchases of weapons and explosives, and to private bank accounts.  Europe provided funds for textbooks that promoted incitement, and after the U.S. had broken links with Arafat, European envoy Miguel Moratinos (now the Foreign Minister of Spain) continued to court the head of the PLO.  As a result, Europe was frozen out of the diplomatic process.

Since then, European policy on Israel has become both more moral and realistic.  The cash transfers to the Palestinian Authority ceased, and the link to corruption was investigated (albeit in secret, while the EU preaches transparency to others).  Europeans have also begun to take Israeli security requirements more seriously, spurred by the direct experience of mass terrorism in Madrid and London.  After Hamas gained power, the EU joined Canada, the U.S. and Israel in halting funding for the Palestinian Authority.  And in response, the Israeli government has agreed to greater European involvement in substantive political and security activities, including the (failed) arrangements for securing the crossings into Gaza.

In this context, the continued funding that the European Union provides for radical groups that promote the demonization of Israel is totally inconsistent.  A few months ago, despite the policy changes in other areas, undisclosed EU officials selected some radical non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to participate in its Partnership for Peace Program.  These partners include Machsom Watch, the promoters of the now defunct Geneva scheme, and a small group known as ICAHD (the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions).  ICAHD, which received EU funding in the past, received an additional Euro 472,786 for a project entitled, in pseudo academic jargon, "Re-Framing: Providing a Coherent Paradigm of Peace to the Israeli Public."

The idea that officials should use money provided by European taxpayers to propagandize citizens in another democracy is, in itself, fundamentally misguided.  Would the citizens of France tolerate a huge U.S.-government funded anti-abortion campaign headlined "Re-framing: Providing a Coherent Program Against Murder to the French Public"?   Europeans view government subsidies for specially selected politicized NGOs as part of its "civil society" philosophy.  But it is misguided in using such resources to manipulate the public debate in other democratic countries, including Israel.

In this case, the problem is far deeper than manipulation via funding for selected NGOs.  Some officials in the EU are apparently still promoting the demonization of Israel using this funding under the guise of the "Partnership for Peace" program. ICAHD is a fringe NGO, and as the Anglican Church in England debates anti-Israel divestment, ICAHD is a frequent supporter.  An April 7 letter attempting to justify the "punishment" of Israel was signed by representatives of a number of radical NGOs, including Linda Ramsden, who lists her affiliation as ICAHD.  In other words, the EU is paying for ICAHD's involvement in this venomous anti-Israel campaign.

ICAHD is run by Jeff Halper, an Israeli who often appears at pro-divestment events with Naim Ateek, the head of the Palestinian NGO known as Sabeel.  As participants in an interfaith dialogue noted, Ateek denies "the legitimate right of the Jewish people to live in their land, and echoed medieval anti-Semitic canards".
With ICAHD's help, Sabeel is described as "the driving force behind the scenes pushing mainline Protestant denominations to adopt a policy of divestment."  Halper reinforces this campaign by declaring that "A Jewish state has proven politically and...morally untenable", calling the two-state solution "unacceptable", and referring to "Israeli apartheid". When such statements are quoted from the words of an Israeli Jew (whose visibility and impact are the direct result of European funding for ICAHD), it is easier to claim legitimacy and avoid the label of antisemitism.

For these reasons, the Israel government must place European funding for NGOs that promote conflict high on the diplomatic agenda.  There are many other examples, including Hamoked, which, as the State Prosecutor noted, abuses the claim to be "a human rights organization" in order to promote pro-Palestinian positions, and refers to Israel as an "apartheid state", Hamoked is funded by the European Commission as a "human rights" organization. And there are dozens of additional anti-Israel NGOs supported by European governments.

These are not secondary issues, but go the heart of the ongoing conflict, incitement and terrorism.  If Europe's bureaucrats and politicians are truly interested in providing assistance to civil society in the framework of Israeli democracy, there are many more worthy and far less hostile causes to support.

The writer is the editor of www.ngo-monitor.org and heads the Program on Conflict Management at Bar Ilan University

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