Sarah: Good afternoon, and welcome to yet another topical and timely EMET webinar. As most of us know from reports in the Wall Street Journal, at least 12 UNRWA employees were directly involved in the barbaric massacres of October 7th. This number includes two teachers and a school guidance counselor. According to Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, at least 3000 UNRWA employees have ties to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As a senior government official quoted in the Wall Street Journal article said, “UNRWA’s problem is not just a few bad apples. The institution as a whole is a haven for Hamas’s radical ideology”. The United States is the largest funder of UNRWA to the tune of $343.9 million a year. The US has provided UNRWA over $1 billion over the past three years. As most of you know, the United States recently suspended further aid to UNRWA. The US suspension has been followed by 16 other nations, plus the EU. These nations include Germany, Sweden, Japan, France, Switzerland, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Austria, Finland, New Zealand, Iceland, Romania, and Estonia.
UNRWA, however, is not the only UN agency or NGO hiding behind a humanitarian smokescreen. It is not the only organization collecting dollars from the international community while aiding and abetting terrorist organizations. We are tremendously honored to have Professor Gerald Steinberg here with us to discuss these issues in detail. Professor Steinberg is founder and president of NGO Monitor. He is also professor Emeritus at Bar Ilan University, where he founded the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. His research focuses on Middle Eastern diplomacy and security, the politics of human rights and non-government organizations (NGOs) and on Israeli politics and arms control. He was awarded the very prestigious Israel Science foundation grant, served as a team leader for the Israel at the Polls chapters on peace negotiations and Israel-American relations, and was a member of the advisory board of Israel Law Review. He is a member of Israel Council of Foreign Affairs; appointed to the Israel Higher-Education Council, Committee on Public Policy; academic participant in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism ICCA; and a participating member (Israel), Halifax International Security Forum. He has many publications and his op eds have been published in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post He has appeared as a commentator on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, al Jazeera, and NPR. In addition to obtaining advanced degrees in physics, Professor Steinberg received his BA in physics and international relations and his PhD in international relations, both from Cornell. It is indeed an honor and privilege to have you with us, Gerald.
First of all, you have written an excellent monograph for the BESA Center. In this monograph you outline critical steps needed to ensure UNRWA and other NGOs stop using humanitarian aid to support organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and to ensure they stop acting as PR spokespeople for these terror organizations. Can you outline these steps for us please?
Gerald Steinberg: Sarah, thank you for that terrific introduction. I think I can summarize the steps you referenced. I have to say that what is now taking place with respect to UNRWA should have taken place 30, 40, 50 or even, 60 years ago. It is important to understand the humanitarian framework funding the Palestinians comprises multiple organizations. UNRWA gets over a billion US dollars, not including the emergency aid they have been receiving recently. There are at least 13 UN organizations and dozens of NGOs funneling money to Gaza. We classify the United Nations bodies as international organizations. Over and above these UN bodies, there are groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam, Save the Children and dozens more. There are some that are run by the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine. UNRWA and the NGOs get money from governments and it is a lot of money. The Palestinian organizations receiving funding are not just Hamas, Fatah, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In fact, I could use an hour just going through all the groups.
I will give you some background as to how I came to specialize in this field. I have focused on arms control and security and strategic issues for many years. I did some physics, and then I did a combination of technology and strategy and got my doctorate degree at Cornell. I completed a postdoc at MIT and Harvard. I made Aliyah in 1982. I researched and taught these issues and I was part of the Israeli strategic community. I had many students from the foreign ministry and other government ministries and I became aware that NGOs have a tremendous amount of political power. The NGO we tend to be familiar with are groups like Amnesty International, founded in the 1960s, and Human Rights Watch, founded in the 1970s. Oxfam is another well-known NGO, founded after World War II. These NGOs are supposed to be non-governmental. However, I found out they receive a lot of their money from governments. I realized the question of why the governments were giving them money was very important. Gradually, I began looking more and more at this field and it became a focus of my research and I can tell you a couple of stories of how this happened.
I was in Geneva in the late 1990s. At that time, I was still focusing on strategy and arms control. There is a nuclear lab just outside of Geneva, on the French side of the border with Switzerland. While in Geneva, I visited the United Nations compound, based in Geneva. It is a huge, beautifully manicured area with a massive building. I attended a discussion on weapons systems. Later on, I went to another discussion on landmines since I was invited as a technical expert. At that time, I noticed organizations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch handing out materials. I saw dozens of Palestinian groups, and some Israeli and European groups, handing out flyers and materials. In those days they used paper, later they began using discs, and then, of course, they began distributing their information online. Their materials contained familiar allegations against Israel. They accused Israel of committing crimes and killing Palestinian children. This occurred in the late 1990s, around 2000. This occurred around the time the Oslo process was falling apart. In around 2000 and 2001, we started to see bus bombings and terrorism in Israel.
The Durban conference, held in South Africa in September 2001, was a very important landmark. The conference allegedly celebrated the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. The main focus of that conference, however, was Israel. They brought together 5000 delegates from 1500 NGOs, funded mostly by the European Union, the government of Canada and others. They were very proud of this and began using the anti-Israel language we are now accustomed to. They accused Israel of committing genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. They said Israel was an apartheid state. 5000 people and 1500 organizations adopted an agenda resulting in a declaration of the international isolation of Israel, an alleged apartheid state.
That was 22 plus years ago and galvanized me to look into the NGOs. Hillel Neuer, Ann Bayefsky and others do an amazing job at the UN. Other groups examine UN disseminated textbooks to identify antisemitic content. Marcus Sheff actually testified about this issue at the UNRWA hearings on Capitol Hill. Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz wrote the War of Return, an amazing book dealing with the whole UNRWA refugee scam. NGOs, however, are also an important part of the puzzle and they often work together with the UN agencies. I will illustrate how intertwined the UN and the NGOs are later on.
Two of the largest NGOs are Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch has an annual budget of over $100 million a year. $100 million buys a lot of propaganda. Human Rights Watch has been led by Kenneth Roth and other virulent and blatant antisemites, for several decades. They are people who hate Jews and they are very obvious about it, Sarah Lee Whitson, who runs her own organization now, is one of them. Omar Shakir, hired around 2015 by Ken Roth, is another. $100 million buys an entire group of Jew haters.
Human Rights Watch, founded by a wonderful man named Robert Bernstein, was overtaken by antisemites. Similarly, Amnesty International was founded in the late 60s by someone who is involved in Jewish activities. It was overtaken in a similar way to Human Rights Watch. They now have a budget much greater than that of the Israeli foreign ministry. Their budget is not more than the US State Department, but you can buy a lot of hate propaganda with their budget and that is what they have been doing.
The Durban conference concentrated all of the anti-Israel poison in one location and together they developed a strategy to proliferate it. The Jenin massacre myth followed the Durban conference and the NGOs led the charge to isolate Israel, initiate sanctions and bring Israel to trial at international courts. This is the background and the start. We can now jump to where we are today. As we know, South Africa is using the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to try Israel for genocide. The ICJ is a very problematic body since it is not really a court and does not dispense justice. Massive amounts of money have been injected into the ICJ from governments, accusing Israel of genocide, a Holocaust inversion. The same NGOs and people who led the charge against Israel in Durban, South Africa, are doing it again. The South Africans quote them in their statements at the ICJ and they stand with South Africa in the audience. They are contributors and enablers. They enable terrorism, just like UNRWA does. These NGOs enable the brutality that we have seen, not just on October 7th, but over the last twenty years. In my view, they are causing the issues.
Sarah: What sort of review and oversight are these “humanitarian” NGOs subject to?
Gerald: They have a pseudo type of oversight. The ones that have American tax exemption or are based in America, will tell you they have boards of governors and they submit filings to the IRS. They may have 501C3 or 501C4 status and their financial records may be publicly available. Unfortunately, that is it. There is no oversight whatsoever on what they do. We are discussing a multibillion-dollar industry. Oxfam receives over half a billion dollars a year and the amount of oversight on their activities is non-existent. It is called the halo effect. The American president, American secretary of state, American members of Congress and their European, Canadian, Australian and Japanese counterparts will emphasize how much they are helping. This support is clearly very disproportionately weighted towards Palestinians.
UNRWA, as an example, is a unique organization for the Palestinians and there is nothing else like it. Many of these NGOs also have a unique or massively disproportionate focus on the Palestinians. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is essentially a government body, but they call themselves an NGO. They get money from Norway, from Britain, from the EU and from other countries. I could go on. I will encourage people to look at https://www.ngo-monitor.org/ . We have listed about 270 organizations on our site. These are NGOs and not UN bodies. The UN bodies are monitored very well by UN watch and others. The NGOs we list are the ones that are the most visible and almost all of them get their money from governments.
It is absurd and completely incoherent and inconsistent for them to claim to be NGOs. I have been doing this for twenty years. I have had hundreds of conversations and I know that most people are under the impression that groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and others do good things. I ask some of their major donors what they actually know about them. They say that the heads of the organization came to visit them and told them about all the good things they do. Then I ask if they know if anybody performs oversight over them and monitors them and they do not. There was no one monitoring them until NGO Monitor was founded. That explains why I dropped everything else I was doing and focused on establishing NGO Monitor. We wanted to be NGO Watch, like UN Watch, but that name was already taken and so we became NGO Monitor. There should be one such organization in every country, if not in every state.
NGO Monitor or another group like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, may provide information on terror links to the US government. In some cases, the IRS or some other US government body, may look into the allegation. There are a number of Palestinian groups that appear to have terror links and these may be investigated further. Outside of that however, these organizations receive a five-star rating from GuideStar. This is because their financial records are in good order. If you look at what they are doing however, it is poisonous, it is lethal. That’s why I called the paper I wrote, The Enablers of Hamas terror.
Sarah: Can you discuss in a little bit more detail how many of these organizations advocate politically for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad? How are they so effective, and how can pro-Israel organizations actually learn from them?
Gerald: They are effective partly because there is no oversight and partly because they have a halo effect. They are regarded as good, moral and altruistic people. They are regarded as exemplary followers of international humanitarian law even though they actually make it up as they go along. The organizations have so much money that they are able to set agendas, twist and turn truth and attract new donors. Bill Ackman is one of the people who donated large sums to these organizations. In 2011, Bill Ackman gave around $10 or $11 million to Human Rights Watch, and we do not know why. Bill Ackman is a very active and altruistic person who does many good things. We do know he was not the only one. Since his name is out there, I used him as my example.
Human Rights Watch writes dozens of reports accusing Israel of hugely disproportionate responses to attacks, of committing war crimes, of being genocidal and of committing apartheid. Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch from 1993 until 2022, is still running the show and manipulating the organization. The people working there are still largely his people. He has some sort of outside adjunct professorship at Princeton, which is not just a joke, it is an outrage. He has no academic qualifications but no one examines or questions his credentials.
I think the most important thing for the Jewish community and for all Israel supporters is to recognize and learn what is actually happening. That is why NGO Monitor was established. We have an “A to Z” index of 270 problematic organizations on our website at https://www.ngo-monitor.org/. We have listed every country giving money to these organizations and we try to keep them all up to date. We have had some success with the United States government. USAID has stopped or not funded problematic organizations. Every time a Democratic Administration assumes power, they fund all sorts of organizations without doing their due diligence. We then write reports and meet with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. We have a good relationship with a number of Democrats who are not anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, and we present the information.
Firstly, we prove the organizations are very antisemitic in a lot of what they do. We bring many examples. Secondly, we show the organizations are not really NGOs and many of them are tied to terror organizations. The United States is the best at monitoring and at responding but it still needs to do more. The US gives money to UNRWA, other UN bodies, and sometimes to other problematic organizations but they are better than the Europeans. The Europeans basically embrace the whole NGO “civil society” or “religion”. The NRC is clearly a propaganda organization promoting the Palestinian cause. However, 27 members of the European Union including the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Belgians and Germans, give them funding. The British still give them money as well.
The NGO Monitor website is available and serves to expose this fraud. We had a major article on NGOs published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. My colleague Naftali Balanson, Chief of Staff at NGO Monitor, wrote an article about the number of these “NGOs” cited in the South African submission to the ICJ at the Hague. By the way, the South Africans included a number of quotes from UNRWA as well. They just copied and pasted quotes from these organizations.
Everybody thinks these are wonderful, honest organizations. The truth is, however, that they make up international law and other lies. Of course, they operate with the premise that Palestinians can never be responsible for war crimes or for crimes against humanity. They are not interested in the fact that Hamas has a genocidal charter. They consider all Palestinians to be victims and that ideology is deeply embedded within their organizational culture. UNRWA follows the same agenda and works closely with these NGOs. They are part of the same network working to provide cover for Hamas money.
As an example, World Vision has a budget of about $3 billion a year. Over a period of about three years, the Australian branch of World Vision provided about $50 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza. In 2016, the head of World Vision Gaza was arrested and convicted for funneling many millions of Australian funds into nefarious endeavors like building tunnels and missiles. The trial was detailed and he was ultimately convicted. The Australian branch of World Vision claimed ignorance. They did not know or care that the money was used to fund terrorism. NGO Monitor reviewed their public financial statements. We reviewed the statements they filed in Australia and compared them to the statements they filed in Israel. They were required to file in Israel because they created a branch there. We also compared their statements to their international financial statements. We observed they published three entirely different budgets or fake budgets for what they were doing in Gaza.
This example illustrates why it is important to know the details of what these organizations are perpetrating. We need to know the details so we can confront and expose them. Another example is the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP was involved in the October 7th atrocities and in kidnapping and holding Israeli victims. They have an NGO branch. In theory, that NGO branch does moral things and provides humanitarian aid. However, the Israeli government has proven they are just a front for the PFLP. All of these problematic NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the other European funded organizations, need to be exposed. They need to be exposed and confronted in a similar way to UNRWA.
Sarah: I know that the Israeli government recently called for the resignation of Philippe Lazzarini as UNRWA chief. This is not unprecedented. In 2021 there was the case of Pierre Krähenbühl. Can you address what happened with Pierre Krähenbühl?
Gerald: I am not an expert on the UN or on UNRWA but it is part of the same network we discussed. I admire the work of Hillel Neuer and Anne Bayefsky and others at the UN, and we work closely together. We can look back at the 75 years or 74 years since UNRWA was established. UNRWA should not exist. UNRWA is not a refugee welfare organization. It is a political organization with the goal of perpetuating the Palestinian claim that they are victims of Israeli aggression. There is no other place or conflict in the world with a dedicated UN refugee agency and they maintain the conflict. As discussed, UNRWA has no right to exist and is completely political. Additionally, they have a budget of a billion dollars a year and are incredibly corrupt. Many people continue to believe they are doing wonderful work. UNRWA has covered their corruption for years and many people do not care and do not choose to look. However, evidence has accumulated over the years. There were a few brave individuals who called out UNRWA and were fired immediately. In 2014, an employee exposed how UNRWA’s facilities were being used for terror, rocket storage, rocket launch and other things. He was fired immediately. The War of Return by Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz does an excellent job of covering this topic. If you do not have time to read the book, you can find my book review. We also did a couple of zooms and podcasts with them.
Pierre Krähenbühl, the former UNRWA chief you asked about, is Swiss. The Swiss are up to their ears and beyond in organizations like UNRWA. They have the UN in Geneva. They are supposedly neutral but that is a facade which facilitates corruption at the UN. They give a lot of money to NGOs. Pierre Krähenbühl was involved in a corruption scandal involving a young woman, travel, luxury goods and all sorts of other expenses. The funds he stole were intended for people who are supposed to be refugees and who supposedly have nothing. He resigned. By the way, do you know what his next job is supposed to be?
Sarah: Yeah. Of course, Director of the International Red Cross.
Gerald: Yes. He has been nominated for that position but I do not know if he has been approved yet. That he could be nominated is absolutely absurd. That is how this system works. The corruption is extremely deep and almost nobody knows what is going on. In this case, Hillel Neuer and others were instrumental in revealing some of the secrets. I believe the Israeli government was involved in this case as well.
We also have the current case involving UNRWA under the current UN chief, Mr. Lazzarini. I believe Lazzarini is also Swiss, but I am not 100% sure. The amount of money that flows through UNRWA is incredible and we can all see the results. I have never seen anything like the kind of investigation that is going on now. Today’s hearing on UNRWA was important and we are seeing the layers being peeled off. I think it is important to recognize the biggest obstacle, apart from this image of Palestinians as perpetual victims and the corruption, is the Israeli military establishment.
UNRWA and the NGOs work closely together. UNRWA funds NGOs and a lot of that money goes to pay for their cooperative projects. UNICEF works the same way, although it is not nearly as big or as visible. There are 13 UN organizations, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs, and they all work with these NGOs. An examination of what they do with their money is taking place in Washington for the first time. I think this examination must include a review of the NGO network tied to them.
I mentioned that the Israeli military establishment is the biggest obstacle. I heard that assertion again this week from unnamed military officers. I understand it is a habit to support UNRWA and I understand there is a question about who would run the schools and clinics etc. without UNRWA. This is an excuse which might have been real in the 60s and the 70s but the Israeli military establishment has now totally habituated to UNRWA. I have had many conversations with them and they maintain that if UNRWA were not available, they would have to pay for the services UNRWA provides from their own budgets. This is because at least a portion of UNRWA’s budget is spent on actual services such as on schools and clinics. This position is not correct. Again, Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz have done a brilliant job in explaining this phenomenon.
What we actually need now is for UNRWA, UNICEF, OCHA, WHO and other UN bodies, to switch from humanitarian aid for victims, to economic development. Palestinians want economic development with jobs and industry in place of underground tunnels, bombs and weapons. Shimon Peres, wore a polite smile when talking about turning Gaza into the Singapore or the Hong Kong of the Middle East. Let’s at least start by making it Bangladesh or a functional place to live with jobs and gradual economic development. Let’s stop this massive dependence on UN bodies and on the NGO world. CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children and other groups are knee deep in Hamas propaganda and perhaps directly in terrorism.
We have to move away from organizations linked to Palestinian terror organizations with an overt or covert goal of wiping Israel off the map. The humanitarian aid organizations which are complicit, do not even have to worry about money. Qatar is playing a role as well, but we will put that off to the side. With respect to the Israeli military, we should change the gear or the switch and admit support for these organizations is costing us in many ways including in Israeli lives. I really hope the Israeli political establishment, including Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Gallant, the current defense minister, the war cabinet and other decision makers, understand the issues and begin to implement changes. No more UNRWA and no more organizations like World Vision.
With respect to World Vision specifically, Australians have not resumed their funding since the trial I discussed earlier. We hear about the possibility of them restarting funding for World Vision in Gaza but it is a good thing they have not done it yet. However, the Canadians are now giving money to World Vision. The Canadians are also virtue signaling. The Canadians recently joined Biden, the Germans and others in freezing funds to UNRWA. Even Justin Trudeau, not a great lover of Israel or a deep strategic thinker, froze money to UNRWA. There was a huge outcry from the usual suspects in Canada about this and so they immediately committed to give $30 million to NGOs. As we discussed, there is little difference between UNRWA and these NGOs. The Canadians are virtue signaling and this type of behavior has to be stopped, both as regards funding UN agencies and NGOs.
Sarah: Right. I have so many questions. I am going to ask you two more, and then we are going to turn to the audience. A lot of the issues we are seeing have resulted from 75 years of Palestinian self-victimization. How do we change the mindset after 75 years of brainwashing? How do we change ingrained views with respect to the 1948 conflict and the right of return?
Gerald: I am somewhat skeptical we are going to be able to succeed in making the changes you asked about. UNRWA needs to be phased out. Assuming we need the actual services UNRWA provides, then we need to put a very firm date by when UNRWA will be phased out and replaced. Congress has to be very active on this. The issue is not just the corruption and the terror links. UNRWA is fueling the conflict and maintaining the myth of perpetual Palestinian victimhood. As I mentioned, in their complaint to the ICJ, the South Africans quoted UNRWA and other UN bodies as if they are legitimate sources of fact. That whole edifice needs to be dismantled as quickly as possible and we need to transition to a functioning framework. It is important to continue highlighting these issues again and again. Dismantling UNRWA is an important step but it is not sufficient.
NGO Monitor is in close touch with a number of members of Congress including Chris Smith and others. They hold hearings and perform other important activities to monitor and to push back on the funding of these organizations and to monitor the work of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is one of the best international development agencies in the world but USAID does not monitor their sub-contractors. They may sign a big contract with an organization which sub-contracts to other organizations. We assist in monitoring the sub-contractors. I would encourage people to sign up for NGO Monitor’s newsletter. It is a good idea to become informed and to be aware of when congressional hearings on these matters are taking place. A number of members of Congress, more Republicans and Democrats, are aware of the issues and are using the materials we provide.
Sarah: Thank you, Gerald. While we are at it, please call your Congressional representatives and remind them to support the UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act. The bills are H.R.1102 in the House with Chip Roy as the lead sponsor and S.431 in the Senate with Chairman James Risch as lead sponsor. These bills call for withholding US funding from UNRWA unless the Department of State is able to certify that UNRWA staff, partners and funds are not specifically affiliated with terrorism. The bill also calls for UNRWA to be subject to comprehensive independent financial audits validating they are not affiliated with any financial institutions complicit in money laundering or tariff financing. As a reminder, the bill is H.R.1102 in the House, S.431 in the Senate. You can contact your Senate members of Congress at 202-24-3121, and House members at 202-25-312.
Now I think it is time for Joseph to read some of the questions that have come in and maybe post some of his own. Joseph is my colleague here at EMET.
Joseph: Thank you, Sarah, and thank you, Gerald, for that really amazing presentation. One of the questions we received in the chat has to do with South Africa. The question is whether there is any benefit for Israel in maintaining diplomatic relations with South Africa. I would like to add an additional question along the same lines. It is clear the United Nations is working against Israel. What is the benefit for Israel of remaining part of the United Nations?
Gerald: These are questions we could spend an entire webinar on. Leaving an organization like the UN, where you’re one out of 190 and then trying to get back in, is an extremely dangerous process. Nobody is going to care that Israel leaves the UN.
I will say, in parentheses, I participated in an annual conference called the Halifax Conference of Democracies. This forum promotes strategic cooperation between democracies and does good things. The forum includes democracies only and excludes Muslim Arab countries, which are not even close to democracy. Countries like China and Russia are also excluded and that is very important.
Coming back to the question of leaving the UN, I agree with the Israeli government’s position that the cost of leaving the UN would be greater than the benefits and leaving would not achieve anything. On the contrary, I think that the anti-Israel crowd would stand up and clap. They would be very happy for Israel to be outside of the UN framework and would regard Israel’s exit as their success. Maintaining South Africa relations is similar. There is always hope for a better government in South Africa. If Israel breaks relations with South Africa and they elect a better government in the future, relations will need to be re-established. Diplomatic relations are difficult to rekindle once broken and that is why maintaining some level of diplomatic relationship is important. We also need to consider the South African Jewish community who we do not want to leave in an isolated position. I went to speak in South Africa, and I spoke to large crowds in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. The South African Jews are in a difficult position and they are very committed and strong Zionists. They are not able to take their resources out of the country and I am not going to criticize them for staying in South Africa. The presence of the South African Jewish community is another reason for Israel to maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa even though these relations are contentious. I don’t think we would accomplish anything by breaking them off completely.
Joseph: Let me ask a follow up to that question. Is there a red line which, once crossed, would force Israel to leave the UN or is there no real limit to UN bad behavior before Israel calls it quits?
Gerald: Unfortunately, I am not a UN expert. Understanding the intricacies of UN policy requires a great deal of knowledge and I have great respect for the Israeli ambassadors in New York and Geneva. I think they, and their staff, fight a very difficult fight and they add a great deal of value for the State of Israel. Israel is one country standing against scores of Arab and Islamic countries. Israel has been accepted into the group which includes Western European countries, the US, Canada and others. As part of that group, Israel does have an opportunity to influence policy to some extent. Overall, I think that there is value in maintaining a presence at the UN and in speaking one’s mind. The Israeli ambassadors give excellent speeches. We can remember how effectively Chaim Herzog eviscerated the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
I talked at the beginning of the webinar about the Durban Conference. What we saw there was a continuation of that infamous, antisemitic, Soviet inspired resolution. There was no Soviet Union in 2001. The Durban resolution was spearheaded by Islamic groups and by NGOs like Human Rights Watch. People like Ken Roth, Reed Brody, and others, played a lead role in drafting the Durban resolution. I think we need to fight back, and we need to go further than just examining the immediate issues.
Joseph: There are quite a few questions about the NGOs. One of them has to do with Breaking the Silence and NGOs of that sort. They receive a lot of their budget from abroad. Why has Israel not required more oversight for these organizations?
Gerald: There has been some increased oversight. I helped write the legislation implemented in 2011. Israeli NGOs receiving over 50% of their budgets from foreign governments, are in a different reporting category. You have to provide public information every quarter. This helps raise public awareness that the organizations in question are not really NGOs. In these cases, the funding is almost always from European governments. There are around 25 organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence which are called NGOs but are not in any moral or political sense. They are agents of the European governments which are using them to isolate Israel and to promote policies hostile to Israel. These organizations wear an Israeli fig leaf to enhance their credibility. Without money from foreign governments, most people would never have heard of them. They use the money provided to pay their staff, to travel all over the world and to gain legitimacy. It is difficult for Israel to curtail them because Israel is a democracy where people speak freely.
I believe the Israeli attorney general that said the Israeli foreign ministry was not allowed to criticize or to ask the foreign governments for explanations as to why they are funding these groups, I think that that was a mistake. I do not think the attorney general’s ruling was justified and it is something we are trying to deal with. When a foreign government provides money to an organization, the organization is no longer an NGO but rather an agent of a foreign government. I think that needs to be emphasized. Israelis have free speech and cannot be prevented from speaking even if their claims are false and do a lot of damage. All we can do is shine a very strong spotlight on them and particularly on their European sponsors.
In the broader context, we just got some of our power back. Gradually, European governments are starting to act more responsibly, partly because of political changes. The Swiss government cut off funding for some of the worst terror linked NGOs a few months ago after October 7th. The Germans have frozen some funding and the Swedes and others are now investigating. I do believe that as they go through and look at the NGO budgets of the Palestinian organizations, they will also recognize there is no justification for funding them. This has begun to happen at some level. It is counterproductive to fund Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem which are really political action groups disguised as human rights organizations.
Joseph: Okay. I want to stay on the topic of foreign funding to these kinds of NGOs, especially the ones based in Israel. I am wondering if there is oversight over the contributors to these organizations? I understand much of the funding comes from European governments. Does some of the additional funding come from private donors within the United States and Europe? Is there any sort of filtering mechanism to make sure that it is not coming from bad actors?
Gerald: With respect to the Israeli NGOs, the legislation that I mentioned does cover oversight. Israeli NGOs are required to be more transparent than those in the United States. An Israeli NGO must register as a non-profit to be able to pay salaries and receive tax deductions. Israeli NGOs have to file their financial forms, including their donors. However, if they do not receive funds from foreign government, they can just file the total. So, it is possible that significant money from private donors can be provided without revealing bad actors.
George Soros, and his son Alexander, as an example, donate money to Israeli NGOs, via the Open Societies Foundation. These contributions are part of their annual reports and reported on their IRS submissions. We do not know exactly who they donate these finds to. If they give funds to organizations like the New Israel Fund or other organizations with tax exemption in the United States, the funds will then be transferred to the Israeli groups. We are able to find out about most of this. There are rumors Qatar and other such governments are donating funds to Israeli NGOs. I would say, the NGOs are taking a huge risk if they accept this funding and it is leaked. They would be shut down because they would be violating the law. In fact, the officers and board members who were aware they were accepting funding from such sources would be subject to legal action.
So, there is legislation exposing Israeli NGOs funded by Palestinian groups or by the Europeans. However, there are exceptions and cases where there is no transparency. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is a multimillion-dollar organization that is very politically well connected. The NRC funds NGOs bringing lawsuits to Israeli courts. These Israeli and Palestinian NGOs bring lawsuits in the Israeli courts against, for example, somebody who has bought a plot of land or has built a house in an Israeli settlement or Israeli town. This is usually in the West Bank, Judea and Samaria. As we all know, the Israeli courts tend to be very sympathetic and open to any Palestinian claim of some connection to the land 40, 50 or 100 years ago. If the land was once used or plowed by Palestinians, the court often rules that Israelis are building on someone’s land and the structure will need to be taken down. This has happened in a couple of small towns and these court cases against Israelis are funded by the NRC.
The NRC gets around £2 or £3 million British pounds a year from the conservative British government. The British government, or some part of the foreign office, has done everything possible to keep the recipients of their funds secret. We know, however, that most of this money goes to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs to fund the bogus lawsuits I mentioned. After three years of freedom of information requests, the question of how NRC is using their funding, is supposed to be appearing before a legal panel, However, they are clinging with their fingernails to secrecy about how the funds are being used. I will not even go into all the excuses that they are making to justify their secrecy. As an example, they maintain recipients would be endangered if the NGOs receiving their funds were revealed to the public. That excuse is just nonsense. That is a long answer, but it reveals the secrecy in which this whole world operates, and the degree to which they cling to their lack of transparency.
Just a few weeks ago Memory released a document dump relating to United Arab Emirates and Qatar funding. One of the documents revealed €3 million was transferred to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch also has an offshore operation. They do not reveal all of their donors and they are not required to by the IRS. Our motto is to follow the money. The money in this NGO world is often very murky and linked to nefarious donors. The British Foreign Offices will do anything to prevent public knowledge of what the NRC is funding with respect to Israeli and Palestinian groups. NGOs like Human Rights Watch are apparently getting money from Qatar and from corrupt Saudi billionaires. The money is critical. It is an industry and it is very often a corrupt industry.
Sarah: Thank you so much, Gerald. This has been really informative and enlightening. We have received many questions about the two bills that we are working on which will at least create some level of accountability for UNRWA. The bills are H.R.1102, the UNRWA Accountability and Transparency Act in the House, and S.431 in the Senate.
Gerald, thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us. NGO Monitor is doing excellent and very difficult work. Please contribute to NGO Monitor at https://www.ngo-monitor.org/. Please also help support EMET at https://emetonline.org/ . In addition to our weekly webinars, we are on Capitol Hill several times a week. We meet with members of Congress, inform them and help them to do the right thing. We, in turn, are informed by the research conducted by excellent organizations like NGO Monitor. You mentioned this book, the War of return, by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf. I have read it and highly recommend it. Thank you so much, Gerald. This was really a pleasure.
Gerald: Okay. It is my pleasure, and keep up doing all the good work that you are doing. Thank you.
PRESS RELEASE: EMET Applauds Rep. Chris Smith, (R-NJ), Brian Mast (R-FL), Joe Wilson, (R-SC), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) as well as the Entire House Foreign Affairs Committee for their Vote to Disband Funding for UNRWA, But is Shocked by the Actions of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
ACTION ALERT: Please Call The White House, Your Senators, and Your Member of Congress and Explain Why Now Is NOT the Time for a Palestinian State
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