David Bernstein’s “Defense” of Israel’s Pending Anti-NGO Laws
As readers may know, Israel’s Knesset is currently considering two laws designed to prevent foreign governments and international organizations from funding progressive Israel human-rights groups: one that drastically limits the amount of funding such groups could receive, and one that imposes a tax of nearly 50% on foreign funds received by human-rights groups that do not receive Israeli funding (i.e., groups that the current Israeli government doesn’t like). Not surprisingly, those laws have rubbed various governments, particularly the British government and others in the European Union, the wrong way:
Diplomats posted here from three European countries said the two bills are prompting great concern within the EU. One diplomat said the bills are problematic both with regard to potential harm to the countries’ activities in Israel, and with regard to what he said was their anti-democratic character.
A diplomat familiar with the situation said that the EU’s Standley told Amidror that the proposed laws are viewed as an attempt to limit civil society activity in Israel, calling the proposals part of a wider disturbing development.
For his part, Amidror is said to have replied with a defense of the legislation, calling foreign funding of nonprofits interference in Israel’s internal affairs.
A senior Israeli official acknowledged that if the bills pass in their current form, they would cause a severe crisis with the EU. Standley has contacted all of the embassies in Israel that represent EU countries, urging them to register their own concerns regarding the legislation. EU ambassadors here are to meet on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The office of the EU in Israel has also approached the embassies of three non-EU countries – the United States, Canada and Norway – to coordinate the diplomatic response that Israel receives.
The embassies of Britain and the Netherlands, both countries that fund a number of left-wing organizations in Israel, have already begun to take action on the issue.
The British ambassador here, Matthew Gould, is said to have told Akunis that Britain supports the promotion of human rights in a large number of countries in an effort to advance universal values, and that the funding is not directed against the Israeli government.
In a typically hyperbolic post, David Bernstein defends the laws today at Volokh Conspiracy. There is no point in trying to rebut that defense; Bernstein simply relies on the always-unbiased NGO Monitor to claim that “some” of the affected human-rights groups “deny the very legitimacy of the Israeli government,” while “many” are “organizations with little if any domestic base within Israel and instead represent the views of the international far left with a fig leaf of Israeli leadership drawn from its domestic far left.” (Why the rest of the human-rights groups should suffer, Bernstein doesn’t bother to tell us.) I do want to call special attention, however, to Bernstein’s “rebuttal” of the EU minister’s claim that the laws are anti-democratic, because it provides rare insight into the world-view of Israel’s far-right defenders, who view any criticism of Israel — particularly by Israelis who dare organize themselves into a domestic opposition — as akin to treason:
So the idea here, obviously is that a “democratic” country must allow foreign governments, who represent foreign citizens and not Israelis, to interfere in its domestic politics by supporting organizations that range from the fringe left to beyond the fringe left.
Now that is chutzpah! Imagine if Israel was funneling millions of Euros annually to Basque separatists in Spain, Flemish nationalists in Belgium, or to one of numerous neo-fascist fronts in Norway and France. I have a very strong feeling that the EU’s views of what “democratic” countries must tolerate from foreign governments would change rather quickly.
Get that? According to Bernstein, progressive human-rights groups in Israel are the equivalent of Basque separatists and Norwegian and French neo-fascists. (I’m not sure why Flemish nationalists are so evil. The ones I’ve met are quite nice.) The ridiculousness of the comparison speaks for itself.
Oh, one more thing: Bernstein conveniently neglects to inform his readers that the British government (who knew David Cameron wanted to destroy Israel?) and the other EU governments are not alone in their criticism of the pending laws. The United States is opposed to them, as well. What that makes Obama in Bernstein’s eyes, I shudder to contemplate.
P.S. It is particularly ironic, of course, that Bernstein relies on NGO Monitor for information about foreign funding of Israeli human-rights organizations. NGO Monitor receives substantial funding from non-Israeli organizations — approximately $520,000 (US) in 2010, more than 73% of its total funding, according to the figures in its latest financial report. I’d ask why that funding does not qualify — to cite Amidror, Israel’s national-security advisor — as “interference in Israel’s internal affairs.” But you already know the answer to that. Nope, nothing “anti-democratic” at all about the proposed laws!