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Monday, June 29, 2009
: Gerald Steinberg oped: "European funding for the narrative war"

European funding for the narrative war

European efforts to play a major role in Arab-Israeli peace discussions have
again been overshadowed, this time by US President Barack Obama's
initiative. To raise Europe's visibility, the rate of official visits has
increased, and a number of academic conferences on Europe's role are taking
place. For example, yesterday the Hebrew University began a three-day
conference with the ambitious headline "Strengthening the Forces of
Moderation in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Role of the European
Union After the Gaza War."

For diplomats and policy-makers, a "frank and honest exchange of views" on
the problematic European track record in academic settings could be very
helpful in correcting decades of misjudgments. For example, during the Oslo
process, the European Union and its member states were convinced that Yasser
Arafat was a "force of moderation," providing him and his corrupt Fatah
cronies with suitcases of money, justified as necessary to "grease the
wheels" of the peace process and Palestinian state building. Instead, the
cash went to foreign bank accounts and terror.

In Europe, there have been very few independent analyses of these and other
diplomatic and policy failures. Fearing embarrassment and worse, officials
rejected calls for an independent investigation, until the European
Parliament forced the European Commission to hold an inquiry (known as the
OLAF report). But years later, this report remains top secret, meaning that
few if any lessons were apparently learned.

Given this record and the difficulties that Europe has in analyzing itself,
serious academic research and conferences can play a very positive role.
Unfortunately, many of these discussions of European policy feature speakers
and officials who prefer to preach to Israelis rather than investigating
their contribution to failure. In parallel, important issues related to
policy failures are conspicuously absent from such conferences.

ONE SUBJECT consistently avoided in the quasi-official research and
conference framework is the massive European funding for radical
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) whose activities fuel the conflict
instead of "strengthening the forces of moderation," as proclaimed in the
title of this conference. Through the "Barcelona program" and aid schemes,
the European Commission and member governments provide tens of millions of
euros every year to Palestinian, Israeli and other NGOs. The ostensible
objectives include promoting democracy, peace, development and human rights,
but the results are often counterproductive.

These NGOs lead the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, through
labels such as "apartheid" and "war crimes," based on the strategy adopted
at the 2001 Durban Conference NGO Forum. For example, European NGO funding
is the primary engine behind the "lawfare" assaults against Israeli military
and civilian officials - a form of soft-war aggression through the courts
which accompanies the "hard war" of terrorism. The current case in Spain
(chosen for its lenient universal jurisdiction policies) is led by the
Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which is funded by the European
Commission, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and other
governments. Indeed, PCHR is a central force in the NGO demonization and
political warfare against Israel.

These European-funded "lawfare" cases are part of the much wider process,
conducted through highly political NGOs in Israel that seek to overturn the
government's policies - groups like B'Tselem, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch,
Bimkom, Ir Amim, Adalah, Mossawa, etc. (The EU claims to fund these NGOs
under the guise of limited projects, but the amounts often constitute the
bulk of the total operating budget.)

AN EXAMINATION of the activities of European funded NGOs demonstrates that
they do not contribute to "strengthening the forces of moderation." Many are
active in promoting anti-Israel boycott campaigns, one-state proposals
(meaning the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state) and submitting
tendentious claims to UN "investigatory" committees.

A serious discussion of these issues would ask questions like: How does this
happen? Who guides these decisions? Why are European government funds for
NGOs used to undermine compromise, mutual acceptance and the two-state
solution that Europe claims to support?

The chaos in EU funding for NGOs and frequent overlaps add to these
problems - there is no coordinator or central data source. European
transparency regulations are ignored in this area, and no records or
protocols are available for NGO allocations under European Commission
programs. The names and possible conflicts of interests of the policy-makers
are hidden from public scrutiny. Evaluation processes, if any, are secret,
making it difficult to explore constructive changes.

When NGO Monitor was unable to obtain the most basic documents and
threatened a lawsuit under the EU's own transparency rules, European
officials sent a CD containing about 50 documents, most of which had all the
relevant information deleted including the names of NGO partner
organizations and the evaluation criteria. It was impossible to decipher the
few meaningless statements and figures that remained, making constructive
evaluation impossible.

These issues should be high on the agendas of discussions and conferences,
such as the one taking place at Hebrew University. Unfortunately, these
"difficult" subjects and conflicts are largely avoided. Comfortable but
misleading headlines, such as "Strengthening the forces of moderation," take
precedence over the open examination of European support for "lawfare," the
"right of return" and Palestinian rejectionism.

The writer chairs the political science department at Bar-Ilan University
and is executive director of NGO Monitor.

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