For years, ministers and Knesset members on the Right have come out against foreign organizations and governments pouring funds into Israeli political NGOs as undemocratic and inappropriate, pursuing laws to limit the practice. However, The Jerusalem Post has found several examples of government cooperation with the very groups it has denounced.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the American-Hungarian Jewish billionaire George Soros for sabotaging his plan to deport African migrants. In addition, the Likud party’s international liaison provided information about Soros’s activities in Israel to Hungary’s leading party, Fidesz. The Hungarian party launched a campaign against Soros, which made waves around the world and faced accusations of antisemitism, after posters of the billionaire’s face were covered with anti-Jewish graffiti.
Soros is critical of Israel, and his Open Society Foundations sought to weaken ties between Israel and the EU and sow doubt regarding Israel’s status as a democracy, according to emails leaked online via the now-defunct site DCLeaks in 2016. Open Society Foundations donates to several radical-left Israeli NGOs, including Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony, mostly anonymous, from IDF veterans claiming war crimes, and Adalah, an Israeli-Arab legal aid organization, which have spoken out against Israel in international forums, as well as Palestinian organizations, such as al-Haq, led by members of the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Another OSF grantee is the New Israel Fund, a clearinghouse for Israeli civil rights groups, including some of the aforementioned controversial NGOs, which received $837,500 in 2002-2015. At the time, a source close to Netanyahu said the prime minister was deploring Soros’s support for the NIF, which contributed to organizations fighting the deportation plan. After the deportation plan fell apart, Netanyahu also publicly blamed the NIF.
Despite his railing against Soros and the NIF, the government works with them in a range of areas.
Even the Prime Minister’s Office is part of the phenomenon, as a party to the Open Government Partnership, “a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote governance,” launched in 2011 by former US president Barack Obama’s administration and seven other countries.
Soros’s OSF is deeply involved with the Open Government Project; it is one of the partnership’s main funders, and Julie McCarthy, director of the OSF’s Fiscal Governance Program, serves on the steering committee that oversees the Open Government Partnership’s activities. A UK parliament publication documents how an initiative co-chaired by the British government and the OSF has “a significant measure of influence” on the Open Government Partnership.”
The unit at Open Society Foundations that McCarthy heads reported making “substantial direct investments” in the Open Government Partnership, and promoted the idea of these investments having “a ‘Trojan horse’ or ‘small end of the wedge’ role in enhancing civil society influence and standing on governance concerns... in irreversible and ever-escalating ways,” in a 2015 OSF document found in DCLeaks.
A SOURCE in the Prime Minister’s Office office said they saw it as an initiative by Obama, and claimed Soros became involved later, without the PMO’s knowledge. However, McCarthy’s biography on the OSF website said she was involved as early as 2011, the year the Open Government Project was established.
Likud MK Miki Zohar called for the PMO to pull out of the partnership, saying that “Soros’s actions hurt Israel’s interests, and it’s inappropriate for us to cooperate with him in other ways until he decides to stop dealing in things that harm Israel.”
Last year, Zohar proposed a “Soros bill” to stop donors who are “antisemitic, inciting or hostile to Israel” from contributing to Israeli NGOs.
An official said that the Prime Minister’s Office was unaware of Soros’s funding of this project, and will take measures to rectify the situation.
The New Israel Fund’s involvement in government projects is much greater. Its director-general in Israel, Miki Gitzin, told the Post on Wednesday, “I don’t think there’s a ministry that doesn’t work with us. The NIF is one of the cornerstones of Israeli civil society. No government ministry or serious committee in the Knesset doesn’t cooperate with us. It’s very, very broad.”
JUSTICE MINISTER Ayelet Shaked shared a link on Twitter on Saturday to “toplist,” a database of experts of Ethiopian origin that journalists can use as sources or invite as guests on their radio and TV programs. The Justice Ministry initiated the database in order to encourage more visible diversity.
“You only have what to gain,” she wrote. “You should follow the database.”
The database is run by “Anu,” whose website says it “empowers Israeli civil society to take action... to advance striking socioeconomic issues for a more egalitarian and inclusive Israel.”
Among Anu’s major donors are the New Israel Fund and the European Union, two groups that Shaked has come out against.
Throughout her five-year political career, Shaked has been a vocal opponent of the EU funding political NGOs in Israel, though her focus has been more on organizations that promote boycott of Israel and advocate bringing Israeli officers before international tribunals. She initiated a bill requiring all NGOs receiving most of their funding from foreign governments or bodies like the EU to publicly declare so in all their publications.
“The blatant intervention of foreign countries in the State of Israel’s internal matters through funding is an unprecedented, broadly occurring phenomenon that violates all the rules and norms of relations between democratic countries,” Shaked said in 2015.
Shaked spoke out against the NIF even before she was an MK. “My Israel,” the Israel advocacy organization she led, accused the NIF of funding organizations run by Amir Mahoul, who was convicted of spying for Hezbollah. As justice minister, in 2015, in an accidental meeting with NIF’s president at the time, Rabbi Brian Lurie, she denounced the organization for funding “Israel-bashers,” and tried to convince Lurie to change its policy. And that’s just a taste of her repeatedly expressed views on the NIF.
And yet, Shaked seemed proud last week to work with an organization whose funding she has roundly condemned. There are past examples, as well, of Shaked attending conferences and working with organizations with ties to the NIF.
Shaked’s spokesman explained that Anu won a tender put out by the Justice Ministry, and Shaked had no control over who was chosen. Anu was selected because it had experience, having published databases for other minority groups.
“Once it happened, you can’t make the Ethiopians suffer,” the spokesman said. “Our goal is to promote them... The database is part of the Unit to Fight Racism, which Shaked established to take action for the Ethiopian community.”
Another example of a minister bashing the NIF and then working with it is Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
In 2016, Regev said “the NIF and extreme-left-wing organizations want an Israel with no right-wing people, no religious people, no one from Jerusalem, no Zionists and no one who thinks differently from them... The extreme Left is not willing to accept democracy.”
However, the NIF and the Culture Ministry both sponsor the annual “My Heart is in the East” music festival in south Tel Aviv.
Gitzin said he’s not surprised by the contradictions.
“The attempt to badmouth us doesn’t seriously come from our work, it comes out of political needs,” he said. “They don’t talk about our work for social justice, women, LGBTs, equal rights for Arabs. We do that every day. The government investments in the Arab sectors wouldn’t happen without NIF organizations.
“I think it’s time to appreciate us, instead of slinging mud. Government cooperation is a positive thing, and we want to continue,” he argued.
Similarly, Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said: “I think the government should stop the incitement and continue the cooperation.
“There’s hypocrisy and immaturity in the government’s behavior, that on the one hand it cooperated with the NIF and is justifiably proud of the resulting achievements promoting weaker populations and young people, and fighting racism, but on the other hand incites and persecutes civil society,” she said.