David Bernstein’s “Defense” of Israel’s Pending Anti-NGO Laws

by Kevin Jon Heller

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!

http://opiniojuris.org/2011/11/13/david-bernsteins-defense-of-israels-pending-anti-ngo-laws/

28 Responses

  1. ==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==
     
    Good idea. In response to the Israeli initiative the EU and US should stop the Israeli funding of organizations in their countries. Such as AIPAC. Oops, now I’m an anti-Semite according to Bernstein.
     

  2. In fairness, AIPAC insists that it receives no funding from the Israeli government, and I have no reason to believe that’s not the case.

  3. As Bernstein explains over and over, the crucial point is not simply foreign sources, but foreign governments. The major donors to NGO Monitor are listed on page 10 of the report linked to by Prof. Heller. None of them appear to be governments.

  4. You are confusing my criticism of Bernstein with my criticism of NGO Monitor.  As the post makes clear, my criticism of Bernstein concerned his idiotic comparison of funding progressive human-rights organizations to funding the ETA or neo-fascists, while my criticism of NGO Monitor was that it condemns foreign funding of progressive human-rights organizations — any foreign funding, governmental, organizational, or individual — even though the vast majority of its own funding is from foreign sources.

  5. “Progressive” organizations and supposedly neo-fascist ones are alike entitled to a level playing field in the matter of political funding. If you don’t think so you are asking for a non-democratic, authoritarian state.
    NGO Monitor’s report, to which Bernstein refers, is here:
    http://www.ngo-monitor.org/data/images/File/NGO_Monitor_EU_Funding_Europes_Hidden_Hand.pdf
    Here, NGO Monitor does draw a distinction between organizations that are blatantly partisan and those that are not so partisan. But it is different from yours. The dividing line appears to be along the promotion of hate or violence. That seems to me a useful line to draw. It is clear that some “progressive” organizations are promoting violence, for example the Free Gaza Movement with its blockade-running operations. They present a military operation in the guise of a humanitarian one.
     

  6. Flemish seperatists want Flanders to be free. Obviously this is the oppostie of what ‘progressive’ anti-Israel organizations and the European regimes want.

  7. I am puzzled as to why it is a democratic requirement to let FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS interfere in internal affairs of the state. The goal of the legislation is not to proscribe the NGOs–quite obviously, that would be undemocratic–but to limit external influence.

    But it is the height of folly to proclaim that “progressive” organization somehow are above the fray while “nationalist” organizations are not. Both are fanatics, even if their methods may appear different. If we are to judge the proposal–especially by democratic standards–the judgement should be viewpoint neutral (barring direct terrorist or seditious activities). Bernstein’s point is clearly over the top–but it’s over the top for dramatic effect. A better example perhaps would be Chinese government funding human rights organization in EU countries in order to protect its image against attacks by OTHER human-rights organizations.

    Contrary to Heller’s view, there is absolutely nothing inherently objective about “progressive human-rights organizations”. It’s the same kind of willful blindness that he accuses Bernstein of having. Sorry! There is simply no reason why foreign governments should be involved in national human rights organizations–under a different regime, such activities could be considered spying, destabilization and sabotage. So, on second thought, the comparison to various nationalist fronts is quite apt.

  8. I think that progressive human-rights organizations are “inherently objective”?  Hmm, news to me.  I just don’t think they are biased in quite the same way as neo-fascists and terrorists, which seems — Bernstein’s hyperbolic comparison aside — a rather unobjectionable view.

  9. “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.”
    I believe that Mr. Bernstein’s analogy is apt: the Israelis who are anti-Israel run pretty counter to the mainstream Israeli thought, just as do, inter alia, Basque separatists.  Going hyperbolic with “Get that?” and calling the idea ridiculous without connecting the dots fails to convince.  Perhaps you would go through the steps so we could see just what your real thought processes are on this point.
    As for the sightly later comment, “What that makes Obama in Bernstein’s eyes, I shudder to contemplate[.],” I can probably answer that: it makes him anti-Israel.  At least that’s what he is in my eyes.  The telling analogy, briefly and tersely worded, appeared in a cartoon.  A woman is interviewing Carter (the second-worst president–yes, that one), and she’s asking him if disagreeing with Obama meant that someone was racist, then wouldn’t disagreeing with Israel mean that they were anti-semitic?  Personally, I couldn’t see a sensible way around that.
     
    BG
     

  10. I think you missed the point in Bernstein’s article. The point is that government should not interfere in other countries. It does not matter if YOU think the aim justified the means. For every YOU that thinks this is OK and that is NOT OK, there is ANOTHER that thinks the opposite. DO NOT INTERFERE. PERIOD.

  11. Yechiel,

    I completely agree.  So you are, of course, opposed to the billions of dollars in foreign aid that the U.S. provides Israel each year — and are demanding that the Knesset immediately pass a law prohibiting the government from accepting that aid.  Because “government should not interfere in other countries” and ends do not justify the means.

  12. I think that even you can understand the difference between governments reaching agreements and sponsoring private NGO that has it’s own agenda, especially NGO that support and aid the enemies of that country.

  13. The US and European governments provide billions in aid to the Palestine Authority. For consistency with Prof. Heller’s last comment, all aid to the PA should be terminated along with aid to Israel. Also, all funding to pro-democracy groups overseas should likewise be terminated. That is, after all, political meddling just as much as any other.
     
     
     
     

  14. According to my resources, the billions in aid is not to the PA, but to the private bank accounts of it’s leader  :-)

  15. The point is that government should not interfere in other countries. It does not matter if YOU think the aim justified the means. For every YOU that thinks this is OK and that is NOT OK, there is ANOTHER that thinks the opposite. DO NOT INTERFERE. PERIOD.

    Unless, of course, you are intervening on behalf of the Israeli government.  In which case, ignore everything above.

  16. KJH, 

    How do you feel about J-Street (US) receiving much of its operating budget from a semi-anonymous woman from Hong Kong? 

    Now how would you feel if it was AIPAC doing the same?  

    /CS

  17. The proposed (and now I believe enacted) Israeli law refers only to contributions by governments and international organizations, not by private sources. I submit that the discussion should be limited to this kind of funding. The Israeli law is a response to the worldwide PR campaign to delegitimize Israel and should be viewed in that context.

  18. Yehiel wrote, “I think that even you can understand the difference …”

    I suspect you missed the memo–Heller does NOT understand the difference. Or he does not care, which amounts to the same thing. He focused on a minor comment in my post and ignored the rest, as if he had refuted it. In my view, that’s an admission of intellectual failure.

    Heller fails to understand the difference between democracy and what he’s supporting (since when “democracy” within a country applies to giving a voice to foreign governments), he conflates aid REQUESTED by the national government with interference with internal affairs of the state by pumping money to subversive groups. He ignores the main point that Bernstein makes, differentiating between private support for NGOs and foreign-government funding. He believes that if a group shares his ideological perspective (and, yes, most human rights groups DO have an ideological perspective) then their acceptance is “a rather unobjectionable view”.

    I again offer to Heller a “rather unobjectionable” comparison that even he should be able to understand–no terrorists, no fascists, no openly subversive activities.

    Suppose the Chinese government decides to fund human rights and education groups in, say, Australia that 1) provide pushback on the official government position of human rights abuses in China, 2) criticize economic and civil-libertarian INTERNAL positions of the government and offer alternatives that would benefit China, if implemented, 3) encourage the training of Young Maoists to take over the country at an appropriate time. All this is done under the pretense that these institutions a merely political observers who speak “uncomfortable truth” and, as a side benefit, provide instruction in Chinese language(s).

    I am sure Heller would find such “progressive human rights organizations” totally unobjectionable. In fact, many public universities in Anglophone countries already have such unobjectionable institutions or, as I prefer to call them, propaganda centers. To make things more interesting, some of these centers’ employees–directly on the payroll of the PRC government–spy on Chinese students at these universities, reporting home any untoward activities. I suppose, they have not done any physical sabotage yet, such as chaining themselves to various gateways to block normal traffic, in order to protest any anti-Chinese policies.

    As I said, these organizations are not privately funded–they are directly paid for by the PRC government. But what’s the difference? It’s all for the sake of democracy, right?

  19. B’Tselem and Gisha are “subversive groups”?  That’s funny.  Sorry, but it’s impossible to take this comment threat seriously at this point.  If people don’t understand the difference between human-rights organizations and neo-fascists and ETA terrorists, there’s nothing productive left to be said.

  20. “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.”

    So basically what you are saying is that a foreign funded NGO, that is hostile to the policies of a country, and supports policies opposed to most of its citizenry, is “democratic” if it supports your progressive policies, and should not be restricted, like the leftist Israeli NGO’s.  But if it supprts policies that you do not agree with, ie not progressive, like the Basque seperatists, then it is OK for a EU country to restrict them.  Very convenient definition.
    Response…

  21. The indigenous Jewish population of “The West Bank” – whose ethnic cleansing is advocated by B’Tselem – sure don’t think of them as a “Human Rights Organization”. 

    A racially pure Islamic state in Judea may be the “progressive human-rights” position.   But like Yechiel points out, others see Hamas, Meretz, PFLP, B’Tselem, and Fatah, as neo-fascists.    You say Patato, I say Allahu Akbar.     Who’s to say?

    So how about a compromise.  Instead of people arguing about what’s “neo-fascist ” and what’s a “progressive human-right”; who’s genocidal policies count as “progressive” and whose don’t, how about a simple rule:  No funding by foreign governments.   

    Would it bother you if there was a law that foreign government-funded organizations have to disclose their financing?

    Its very different to say: “We progressive Israelis advocate the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank” v. “On behalf of the Syrian (or Danish, or American) Government we advocate the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank”.

  22. David has updated his post in response to yours.
     
    I think it would be best to set out your criteria for when it is acceptable to restrict funding. The CPUSA was being controlled by the KGB in an effort to undermine America, and in the process there was support given for things we’d consider acceptable like civil rights. How legitimate is it for the U.S government to block the Soviet Union from giving such support?

  23. I would say that it’s odd that KJH keeps objecting to the adjectives in critics’ posts but completely ignores the substance–except I can’t. Anyone who thinks any political (politically motivated) position is “rather unobjectionable”–without realizing that it’s quite objectionable to people who disagree with it–cannot possibly understand what objections anyone could possibly have to his arguments. In fact, all he has to do is declare his own argumentation “unobjectionable” and critics magically disappear. I am used to seeing this on regular basis on the Right, but need an occasional reminder that it can happen on the Left too. In this case, we can’t even say that, in one case, we have an extreme fringe while, in the other, we get a more mainstream position. Both are extreme and both are mainstream–I guess, they are diverging in both directions.

    And to answer the question directly, yes B’Tselem can be viewed as subversive. I did not even say that this is MY position, but implied that it can be viewed as such by the current Israeli government (and we ARE talking about subversion against the government, aren’t we?). In fact, the same would apply to almost any Israeli government of the past 20 years, at least.

    “If people don’t understand the difference between human-rights organizations and neo-fascists and ETA terrorists, there’s nothing productive left to be said.”

    You’re right. If people don’t understand the difference between privately funded organizations and organizations funded by foreign governments there is really nothing productive to be said. But, perhaps, an impartial observer will realize wherein lies the rub.

  24. You wrote: B’Tselem and Gisha are “subversive groups”? The answer is a resounding YES. They are a few people who decided that Israel is doing “war crimes”. Since all their cases were thrown out of court they are working in the international arena to de legitimize the actions of the Israel government and to try to get their way by international pressure. They are the EXACT example of NGO that is founded by foreign governments to influence the internal affairs of our country.
    Take Gisha for example. We are being attacked by the Arabs in Israel for about 100 years. Part of the defensive tactics is road blocks, where the people are checked for bombs etc. Now a few Jews thinks that we should let the Arabs move bombs freely. To influence the media and public opinion cost money. So they take about 400,000$ in 2010, and the same amount in 2009, from other governments to do this. What will the British or Spain reaction will be if Israel will fund NGO that his aim is to make life easier for the IRA or Free Basque in the name of HUMAN RIGHTS, of course.

  25. Israel agreed to political dialogue and security, an economic and financial partnership and a social, cultural and human rights partnership when it entered into the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the EU and Israel.

    In most civilized legal systems it is recognized that legal rights may only be exercised conditioned upon compliance with legal duties.
     
    Article 2 of the agreement stipulates: “Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”

  26. I do not argue that human rights is important. What I am saying that this label is used to help terror. The most basic right is the right to live. Your right stop at the point that you put my life at risk. Stop trying to kill me and you will have absolute freedom and all the human rights you need.
    Think about this:
    If the Arabs will put down their arms they will have a state.
    If Israel will put down it’s arms it will be destroyed.

  27. Suppose the Chinese government decides to fund human rights and education groups in, say, Australia that 1) provide pushback on the official government position of human rights abuses in China, 2) criticize economic and civil-libertarian INTERNAL positions of the government and offer alternatives that would benefit China, if implemented, 3) encourage the training of Young Maoists to take over the country at an appropriate time. All this is done under the pretense that these institutions a merely political observers who speak “uncomfortable truth” and, as a side benefit, provide instruction in Chinese language(s).
    Actually, a democratic government can function rather well under such circumstances. In Finland, from 1940’s until 1980’s, we had the Soviet Union funding and supporting the communist party and their associated organisations more or less openly. And they were performing just the functions you mentioned. Due to foreign policy reasons, this subversive activity was allowed to continue, but it did not undermine the Finnish democracy.
    Foreign support of domestic, subversive NGOs is ultimately futile. If the bulk of the population believes in and supports the current democratic system, foreign subversion cannot overthrow it. So, to answer Bernstein’s question: I’m OK with Israel funding far-right groups in EU. Freedom of assembly cuts both ways.

  28. The law is NGO Monitor’s creation and the bulk of the research cited by the law’s advocates come from NGO Monitor.. Which is fine but how can most of NGO Monitor’s funding come from an American non-profit which, to the best of my knowledge, has never had a dollar? Perhaps they did get 1.7 million dollars in a year and give it to NGO Monitor but that’s not the .5 million reported on their website.
    Here is the 2009 Donor statement with 1.3 million coming from Dore Gold’s organization. 100% foreign funded.
    Glass houses …
     
     

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