Thursday, November 10, 2011

The danger of foreign funding

MK Tzipi Hotovely

Israel is in the midst of a struggle to maintain its image as an ethical state. Alongside the military campaign, we are conducting campaigns in the diplomatic and international legal arenas.

Attacks on Israeli military officers following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-9, and the distorted reality in which senior Israeli politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni refrained from visiting London for fear of being arrested on suspicion of war crimes, are the results of an aggressive campaign by non-governmental and non-profit organizations whose main funding sources are foreign countries. This funding breaks the accepted rules of the democratic game and breaches the borders of foreign diplomatic interference. Instead of Israelis being the masters of their own destiny, foreign countries, via organizations such as Breaking the Silence, Adalah: The Legal Center for Majority Rights in Israel and Yesh Din -- Volunteers for Human Rights, are manufacturing delegitimization of the government.

As long as the funding is coming from private individuals, every organization's freedom of speech should be protected, and funding can come from all points on the Israeli political spectrum, just as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) operates in the U.S. as a political lobby and Israeli Knesset members are in contact with American government officials to exchange ideas.

But when England transfers more than 3.5 million euros to Yesh Din, it is enacting foreign influence over a sovereign state, contrary to the principles of democracy. The same goes for the more than 1 million euros given by the Netherlands after Operation Cast Lead to the organization B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. B'Tselem published a report accusing the IDF of war crimes. In addition, the EU overall passed more than 6 million euros to Adalah, an organization that called for the U.N. to intervene in the arrest of Ameer Makhoul, who was suspected of espionage against Israel. This data comes from Bar Ilan University Professor Gerald Steinberg's NGO monitor, and there are many other examples.

As if that were not enough, enemy countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait fund some of these organizations through the [Islamic charity] Welfare Association. Saudi Arabia, which funds both Hamas and Hezbollah, is not suspected in any way of having interests in line with those of Israel, as you know. It contributes through the association to these organizations. In essence, this is covert propaganda, and terrorism and foreign financing are the fuel that drive it.

I was among the initiators of the law, passed by the Knesset a year ago, that makes associations publish their donors' identities every quarter. That was a first step, as it is important that the public knows who pays for campaigns against Israel and what the interests are that stand behind those campaigns. But that is not enough. No civilized country could allow foreign diplomatic forces, for whom Israel's welfare is not at the top of their priority list, to influence its decisions.

This is also a democratic issue: Instead of Israelis affecting their own fate, foreign countries are dictating it, and with money. A prohibition on financing from foreign governments is, therefore, not an anti-democratic law, but rather the foundation for any democracy interested in protecting itself.

This is why the U.S. has defined any external donor, even a private individual, as a foreign agent, and contributions must be reported. As a sovereign state, we must insist that decisions about our future are made by the Israeli public itself, out of concern for its own future.

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