Response to the article in the right hand columnm by Professor Gerald Steinberg that was accepted and then rejected
by the euobserver.com
January 12, 2012
THE NGO CAMPAIGN AGAINST ISRAEL DEMOCRACY
Gerald M. Steinberg
By any objective standard, Israeli democracy is as robust and pluralistic as any in the
world. There are no restrictions on any form of protest or advocacy, including very fierce and unpopular criticism of the
government and military. No other democracy can claim to have greater freedom of expression, despite more than six decades
of war and terrorism; threats of annihilation; and in parallel, the challenges of developing a cohesive society based on numerous
divergent communities scattered for generations as Diasporas, many of which do not have traditions of pluralism and democracy.
Of course, our society is not perfect -- like other nations, we have
flaws, and it is our responsibility to correct them. But aggressive campaigns greatly exaggerate these imperfections, as part
of the ongoing effort to delegitimize Israel,
led by the soft-power of and well-financed “civil society” groups, which themselves are not subject to any democratic
accountability. These accusations should not be accepted
at face value, and must be tested against credible evidence that is independently verifiable.
Israel’s democratic credentials include a wide-open electoral
process: a free and highly critical press; a vibrant NGO sector with
tens of thousands of political and social groups across the political spectrum, engaging in intense debate; as well as the systematic protection of the rights of minorities to freedom of expression
For example, each year, Israeli police forces and
government institutions facilitate Gay Pride parades in Jerusalem Tel Aviv, Haifa,
and Eilat; marches on Human Rights Day; protests by the Islamic movement; and to observances of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.
In the summer of 2011, mass demonstrations on socio-economic issues were a testament to Israel's dynamic civil society and a culture of advocacy and
peaceable protest. Israeli police facilitated these activities, blocking off roads and granting permits. The government responded
to protestors’ demands positively, in the form of a task force to address their claims.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere, where thousands
were murdered at the hands of their own governments, pro-democracy activists were quoted as taking inspiration from the democratic nature of Israel
and its commitment to freedom of expression.
Similarly, while Arab representatives in the Knesset frequently deny
the legitimacy and advocate the destruction of Israel,
for which they are strongly criticized in democratic political debate, their right to express these views has not been infringed.
MK Haneen Zoabi was aboard the Mavi Marmara, a boat operated by the Turkish group IHH (a member of the Union of Good,
a U.S.-banned terror organization), from which Israeli soldiers were brutally attacked. In some other democracies, participation
in an armed attack against one’s own military forces would be considered treason, but no criminal charges were made
against Zoabi. Instead, she received a minor
rebuke, and continues to freely travel around the world denouncing the State of Israel, ironically in whose parliament she
However, all of this has been erased by the promoters of an intense
and well-financed campaign falsely accusing Israel
of “anti-democratic behavior,” arising from growing criticism and debate over the massive and unprecedented level
of non-transparent European government funding for highly political non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The powerful NGOs that receive this illicit largesse, removed from any
democratic checks and balances, have launched a concerted effort to silence this debate. But partisan allegations from NGOs
should not be taken at face value; in a democracy, groups claiming to speak in the name of human rights have no immunity from
criticism and public debate.
Leaders of powerful NGOs should face the same
type of scrutiny as other political actors, including elected officials. The importance of this process was illustrated in
a “wikileaks” cable in which a New Israel Fund (NIF) official,
Hedna Radanovitz, told a U.S. diplomat that
“the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be [a] tragedy,”
revealing a contrast between NIF's public statements in support of Zionism.
Thus, criticism and analysis of NGOs is not
anti-democratic – indeed, it is the essence of the democratic process. And the debate over the secret NGO funding processes,
and of their false claims of “war crimes”, as repeated in the discredited Goldstone report, does not prevent Israeli
NGOs such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Public Committee Against Torture
in Israel (PCATI), and many others from publicizing their allegations.
Statements by foreign leaders, such as Hillary Clinton, and media reports
on these issues, both in Israel and outside,
have repeated the NGO slogans and distortions. Allegations in the editorial pages of the New York Times also fail to
address basic issues related to the unique context of NGO political power in Israel,
the secret foreign government funding processes, and the fact that the proposed Knesset legislation has been rejected by the
robust Israeli democratic process.
More broadly, those who blindly repeat and echo false claims of an “anti-democratic” wave in Israel are again applying double standards and using false
claims in order to isolate and condemn the Jewish nation state, as part of the ongoing ideological and cynical campaign of
delegitimization. The exploitation of the language of democracy as a weapon to promote campaigns by narrow opposition groups
empowered through secret funding processes, and not subject to any checks and balances, is the real threat to Israeli democracy.
Gerald Steinberg is professor of political science at Bar
Ilan University and president
of NGO Monitor. This column is a summary of NGO Monitor’s presentation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion
and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.