Peace Now speaks out against Israel’s NGO Bill
Peace Now has scored an important communications coup with an opinion piece in Newsweek
, one of America’s premier newsmagazines. The article on the so-called transparency bill appeared January 10, 2016
and is by Anat Ben Nun, Director of Development and External Relations for Peace Now. In this piece, reprinted below, Anat lays out how lop-sided the bill is, with right-wing organizations given the green light to receive foreign funding, while NGOs such as Peace Now are stigmatized.
Israel’s NGO Bill is an Attempt to Crush Critics of the Government
By Anat Ben Nun
(Peacematters has highlighted some sentences.)
Unable to deliver real solutions to the ongoing violence, Israeli governments have been trying for years to blame the messengers rather than take responsibility for their own policies. Last week, this practice was taken to the next level when a ministerial committee approved the NGO bill, proposed legislation targeting specifically peace and human rights organizations.
Under the pretense of increasing transparency on donations received from foreign governments, the bill’s actual intention is to delegitimize any organization that criticizes the government’s policies. According to the proposed legislation, members of left-leaning organizations, who already submit quarterly reports on donations from foreign governments, will be obligated to wear special badges and to identify themselves as “foreign agents.”
If the proposed legislation is truly aimed at increasing transparency, it must require all NGOs to expose their funding sources, instead of denouncing left-wing organizations, which are already held to higher transparency standards.
A Peace Now study examining the funding of nine pro-settler NGOs reveals that 94 percent of the donations to these organizations in 2006-2013 were non-transparent. Out of 495.4 million shekels ($126 million) donated to them during the years studied, it was impossible to identify the names of the individuals or bodies who donated 464.8 million ($118 million).
While a majority of the donations to the organizations studied were received from individual donors-predominantly from the United States-many additional millions reached these organizations through Israeli government ministries and local municipalities. It is clear from this data that both American and Israeli taxpayers contributed to the right-wing agenda and the settlement enterprise, and not necessarily willingly. This occurs through the subsidizing of tax-deductible donations in Israel and the U.S. and through the transferring of state funds derived from taxes paid by every Israeli citizen.
Let us take for example Im Tirzu, an organization responsible for an inciting billboard and newspaper campaigns against specific human rights activists, whom it referred to as foreign agents and assisting terrorism. Only 12 percent of the donations to Im Tirzu in the years studied were fully transparent, and the vast majority of donations to this organization came from American organizations with a tax-deductible status, such as the Central Fund for Israel and the One Israel Foundation. It may be worth noting that the former fund also transferred donations to the Honenu organization, which receives tax-deductible donations even though it provides cash grants to convicted Jewish terrorists.
Or how about the ElAd organization, an NGO working to establish settlements inside Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem in an effort to prevent the possibility for a future peace solution in the city? In the years studied, 97.8 percent of ElAd’s donations came from abroad. A list of those donating over 20,000 shekels ($5,000), as required by law, has not been submitted to the authorities since 2005, and even then, the list was granted due to an investigation by the registrar for associations. Given that the origins of ElAd’s foreign funding sources are unclear, why is it that only left-wing NGOs are required to submit quarterly reports and are now told that even that is insufficient?
Finally, let us look at the Samaria Settler Council, a nongovernmental organization working alongside its local municipality in the Occupied Territories. The Samaria Settler Council is notorious for the video it published last year attacking left-wing organizations using Nazi motifs. This group is surprisingly 100 percent transparent,and no less than 97.6 percent of its funding comes from Israeli taxpayers’ money. The Council enjoys government funding from the budget of the Ministry of Interior, as well as from transfers originating in other government ministries. Thus, we Israeli citizens are forced into funding its inciting propaganda.
The NGO bill does not apply to any of the organizations above. The legislation looks specifically at funding from foreign governments, who donate only to organizations with whom they share values, and in sums much lower than those of the organizations we examined. Meanwhile, under the proposed legislation, right-wing organizations will continue to receive large sums of money from foreign funders with little to no accountability. With only 6 percent of all of the donations received by these organizations in the years studied being transparent, how can anyone buy the argument that the proposed legislation’s aim is to increase transparency?
The NGO bill cannot be taken at face value. Rather, it must be understood as part of an orchestrated campaign to silence dissent. This campaign is influencing the Israeli public discourse, and creating the type of toxic atmosphere which recently allowed a young Israeli to try to attack protesters in a Peace Now demonstration. Together with incitement against Israel’s Arab population, the modification of civics education, and the banning of a book describing a Jewish-Palestinian love affair from literature classes, Israel is sacrificing its essential democratic values on the altar of continued rule over the Palestinians.
Rosenblum straight talks on complexities of Israeli-Palestinian impasse
The best hope for a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off is via the Saudi-sponsored Arab League Peace Initiative, Prof. Mark Rosenblum told audiences in Toronto and Ottawa last week. Relations between the two peoples, both at the leadership and at the “street” level, have become so poisoned that neither side would be likely to trust overtures by the other, even if any such positive moves were forthcoming. But none are. Instead, both sides have become more deeply entrenched in hard-line positions than ever.
Prof. Rosenblum is founder of Americans for Peace Now and an award-winning historian at Queens College, City University of New York. His visit to Canada was organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
A highly respected Middle East expert and compelling speaker, Rosenblum outlined the many obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but he also offered a few glimmers of what he calls “hope without delusion.”
One huge obstacle is poor leadership, Rosenblum said. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, demonstrated in his recent, highly mendacious speech to the UN, that he has no interest in reaching out to Israelis. He is scorned by Israel, but his failure to improve anything for Palestinians makes him a lame duck among his own people as well. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a consummate politician, rather than a statesman. He soon will have managed to stay in power longer than any of his predecessors, but he has no vision for his country, refuses to confront the reality of Israel’s self-defeating Occupation and engages in alarmist rhetoric and provocative tactics. He “plays to the hard right” of the Israeli electorate, because that is the greatest threat to his continuation in office.
Complicating the picture is the deep rift between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas. The enmity between them makes it easy for Netanyahu to disengage and feeds Palestinian despair. Corruption in both Fatah and Hamas, along with the hardship of Occupation, has led to Palestinian despondency and cynicism, which in turn have helped birth the latest “knife intifada” – the daily acts of violence by “lone wolf” Palestinians against Israeli Jews. The new wave of violence shows Israelis “what a one-state solution would look like,” Rosenblum said. It is a preview to the never-ending civil war that would result from de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.
In addition, the violent conflicts in various Arab countries are having dangerous ripple effects throughout the Middle East. The collapse of nation states – most notably Syria – has enabled the proliferation of lawless, warring, uncontrollable terrorist groups and created a huge refugee problem. The wider chaos has overshadowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. International interest in brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been diverted to the bigger catastrophes. And so the Palestinian issue has been allowed to fester, which does not serve Israel’s long-term interests.
However, the changing Arab world also opens up an important opportunity, Roseblum said. Saudi Arabia, fearing Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, is interested in a strategic alliance with Israel. Its Arab League Peace Initiative, launched in 2002 and amended three times, offers Israel peace with a large swath of the Arab world in exchange for implementing the two-state solution. The latest amendments provide for land swaps between Israel and Palestine that would allow large settlement blocs to remain in Israel. Plus, there is language that could be used to resolve the thorny “right of return” issue. With such wider Arab backing, a Palestinian leader could be persuaded to stick his neck out and take a chance on steps towards peace. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has not recently shown any interest in encouraging this opportunity.
Prof. Rosenblum’s glimmers of hope also included a couple of outstanding individuals in the Israeli-Palestinian drama. One is Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the new unified Israeli Arab party, who could potentially lead a movement of greater cooperation between Israeli Arabs and Jews. If he could win Jewish trust and be considered a partner in a governing coalition, the right-wing stranglehold on Israeli politics could be broken. Rosenblum qualified his praise of Odeh by saying the Joint List leader needs to speak out more strongly against the daily knifings of his fellow citizens to gain credibility among Jews. Another bright spot is Bashar Masri, a Palestinian entrepreneur who has built Rawabi, a planned, modern and “stunning” city in the West Bank and who has financed other major Palestinian state-building enterprises. Masri has done all this in cooperation with Israelis on the “right side” of the green line, in contrast with the general trend among Palestinians to spurn anything that smacks of “normalization” with Israelis. By doing so Masri has demonstrated courageous, far-sighted leadership.
Masri’s initiatives are an endorsement of the two-state solution – the only way forward – Rosenblum stressed, though it must be built step-by-step, with solid security arrangements to ensure a viable, peaceful Palestine alongside Israel.
Events with Yuval Rabin fill halls, draw media interest
Yuval Rabin, son of Yitzhak Rabin, spoke to capacity-filled venues in Montreal and Ottawa on Oct. 14 and 15, in events organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the late Israeli prime minister’s assassination.
Rabin stressed the need for negotiations and diplomacy in dealing with the Palestinians, rather than relying on force alone. Continuing the Occupation and merely “managing” the situation through mailed-fist tactics is the road to disaster, he said. He called for a regional approach to breaking through the stalemate by enlisting support from a number of Arab countries whose strategic interests have become more aligned with Israel’s in recent years. The idea is the core of the Israeli Peace Initiative, which Rabin, along with a number of prominent Israelis, launched in 2011 to prod their government towards a new paradigm for seeking peace.
“There’s no hope for Israel from the Sea to the Jordan Valley controlled by a Jewish minority – that’s not the Zionist vision,” Rabin said. “There’s no hope to end the conflict without a Palestinian state. There will be no Palestinian state without regional arrangements.”
Regional support is essential, he said, because the Palestinians on their own are incapable of making the necessary concessions that would lead to an agreement. The backing of significant Arab powers in the region could make such concessions more possible and help bridge the deep Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Rabin said his father was uncompromising on Israel’s security and committed to its military strength. But he also understood the need to end Israeli rule over the Palestinians to preserve the existence of a democratic Jewish state. In paying homage to his father’s legacy, Rabin also spoke of the poisoned atmosphere – the right-wing incitement – that “paved the way for the assassin.” Tragically, he said, such incitement against more moderate Jews continues today, along with violent sentiments and sometimes violent acts directed at Arabs.
Equally tragic is that most Israelis are stuck in a dangerous rut. In times of quiet, they ignore the Palestinian issue and when violence breaks out, they argue “there is no partner.” For its own interests, Rabin said, Israel must take pro-active steps towards peace.