The European Parliament is to discuss accountability in the funding of Non-Governmental Organisations working in the in the Middle East region after a Dutch MEP raised concerns over the policies of many of these NGOs which monitor the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Paul van Buitenen is leading a group of parliamentarians who are creating a dossier on EU funding of Palestinians through NGOs.
They raised the question in the European Parliament last month and should receive a reply to the questions shortly.
“We are... very interested in the EU funding of NGO’s in the Middle East and their aims,” Van Buitenen said.
NGO monitor, a Jerusalem-based organisation which promotes accountability of NGOs, helped Van Buitenen formulate questions to the European Parliament on the Middle East conflict.
Van Buitenen came to prominence in 1998 after he drew MEPs’ attention to irregularities, fraud and mismanagement within the European Commission in 1998.
His office contacted NGO Monitor editor Professor Gerald Steinberg saying he felt there was a need for more transparency and accountability in the allocation of European funds to NGO’s working in the region.
In his response, Steinberg gave examples of NGO’s with "extremist politics", like the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, which are funded by the EU.
Steinberg suggested the European Parliament be asked questions like "Are there systematic and specific criteria by which decisions on funding for these NGO’s are made?" and "How is the performance of the recipient organisations evaluated?”
“In what concrete ways has the funding provided by the EU as support for ’democratisation and human rights’ or ’economic development’ within Palestinian civil society had a positive impact, if at all?"
NGO Monitor Conference
The exchange took place just a few days after the inaugural NGO Monitor conference in Jerusalem, aimed at encouring critical debate on the role of NGO’s in the Middle East conflict.
NGO’s like Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights were invited to speak but refused to attend the conference.
Many voices from across the political spectrum debated topics such as “The political power of NGOs” and “The Hamas dilemma”.
When questioned whether the foreign media assigns some NGOs with "halos", a reputation that they are so ’good’ that they are above scrutiny or repute, BBC Israel Bureau chief Simon Wilson said: “I’ve met very few people who have halos.”
Wilson went on to say that the BBC does not depend on NGO’s as a major source of information or perspective: “NGOs actually play a very small part in how [the BBC] reports about this conflict.”
Dr. Olli Ruohomaki, from the Representative Office of Finland said he had never encountered a more complex and entrenched political conflict than that between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ruohomaki said he “strongly condemns all forms of terror” and said that it is “definitely not foreign policy to fund NGO’s that demonise Israel.”
However, he did acknowledge the political nature of foreign aid. “All aid becomes part of a political dynamic and political results, to think otherwise is naïve. But the first rule is to do no harm.”
Sharansky: human rights banner
The conference was concluded by Natan Sharansky, member of Knesset and human rights activist, who compared today’s human rights NGO’s to those that were active during the Cold War.
Sharansky said that today, “the banner of human rights is used against democracy,” with human rights abusers in dictatorial regimes using the language of human rights to demonise Israel.
Sharansky also questioned why so many human rights NGO’s were critical of Israel and other Western democracies and barely paid attention to nations with serious human rights violations. “How can it be that there are so many violations of human rights in the free countries and so few violations in the dictatorships?”