Internationally Weaponized NGOs and Proposed Israeli Legislation

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The Cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to propose legislation to regulate and limit the rights of foreign-funded NGOs. The proposed bill reflects a growing, international problem that by no means is limited to Israel. A problem that urgently needs to be debated, in Israel and internationally. 

aipacThe proposed transparency bill has been sponsored by Israel’s Minister of Justice, Avled Shaked. If adopted into law, the bill requires that NGOs to inform authorities about which countries contribute to their funding. The proposed bill exempts NGOs who exclusively receive funding from private or non-State donors.

The bill proposes that NGOs that violate the bill can be fined 29,000 shekel, equivalent to approximately £5,000. The proposed bill would also require that employees of NGOs which receive funds from foreign States wear special tags when working in the Israeli parliament.

Ironically, Israel supports a large number of NGOs including the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee AIPAC, so Israel is not only at the receiving end of what one can describe as weaponized NGOs.

Weaponized NGOs not Merely an Israeli Problem

usaid_logo_usaIn May 2015 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill, enabling the designation of foreign and foreign-funded NGOs as undesirables after the bill passed both the Lower and Upper House of Parliament. The bill authorizes the designation of foreign and foreign funded non-profit as well as for profit NGOs as “undesirables” on grounds of “national security.

The bill passed the second reading in Russia’s Lower House of Parliament (State Duma), last week and was approved by the Upper House of Parliament, the Federation Council.

The bill has been heavily criticized by foreign, particularly western media, western politicians and primarily western-based or funded NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, among many others. One of the NGOs that is certain to fall under the provisions of the bill is USAID.

While the wording and the use of “undesirable” is ambiguous and does pose legal problems as much as it opens the floodgates for the abuse of the legislation, there may be a good reason for keeping the wording ambiguous.

Internationally acting NGOs have increasingly become “weaponized”; That is, that they have increasingly been utilized as tool for everything from supporting legitimate dissent to the organization of political violence and coup d’état.

Another disturbing fact is that this pattern includes UN organizations such as the UN Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action (Framework Team).

Photo courtesy of MSF.

After the attack on MSF’s trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of MSF.

Examples? Doctors Without Borders (MSF) played a key role in accusing the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons, stating MSF sources. Later on the NGO had to admit that it had no staff in Damascus and exclusively relied on statements by “partners” in “rebel-held territories”.

In 2014 Doctors Without Borders has also been sharply criticized for strongly biased statements with regards to its activities in Myanmar after the Burmese government refused to prolong the NGOs permit due to “unethical conduct“.

MSF has, on the other hand, sharply protested the US bombing of its trauma hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz and demands an independent international investigation.

Again, one needs to be careful with a priori condemnations which tend to be counter-productive and often dishonestly politically motivated.

Amnesty International for its part issued a report about alleged war crimes committed during NATO’s bombing of Libya in 2011. A 2012 report by Amnesty International claimed that Operation Unified Protector, authorized by UNSC Resolution 1973 has resulted in 55 documented cases of named civilian casualties, including 16 children and 14 women that were killed in air strikes in the capital Tripoli and the towns of Zliten, Majer, Sirte, and Brega. The low figure is utterly inconsistent with casualty figures provided by local NGOs as well as documented eyewitness reports.

Susanne Nozzel, Amnesty International USA Director and adviser to the US State Department at the time Amnesty issued the report about Libya.

Susanne Nozzel, Amnesty International USA Director and adviser to the US State Department at the time Amnesty issued the report about Libya.

Two things are worth considering with regard to the Amnesty report. During the first night of the operation NATO forces launched over 100 cruise missiles into Tripoli alone. The Director of Amnesty International at that time was Suzanne Nozzel, who also worked as adviser on U.S. government – NGO relations for the then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The most disturbing NGO may, however, be the UN Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action. The Framework Team is largely privately funded with George Soros as one of the primary sponsors. The NGO under UN cover is “coordinating UN, governmental and non-governmental initiatives”

The UN organization could undoubtedly be useful but it has also been sharply criticized for “fanning the flames” of the inter-communal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and for its active role in creating rather than preventing ethnic and sectarian disputes and violence in Nepal. In both the case of Myanmar and in the case of Nepal it is easy to establish ties between the Framework Team and Western or Western allied intelligence services.

Proposed Israeli Bill Meets Criticism

The proposed Israeli bill was met with widespread criticism, not always for the right reasons. The European Union’s Ambassador to Israel noted that the bill would undermine Israel’s image as pluralistic and democratic country. Ayman Odeh, the leader of the united front of Israel’s Arab parties represented in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) accused the government of trying to silence criticism. Odeh was quoted as saying that “The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is chipping away at what is left of the democratic space in Israel. … Human rights organizations fill an essential role in any society which aspires to be democratic, which is why they are constantly targeted as enemies of Israeli sovereignty.”

The NGO Breaking the Silence, comprised of former soldiers who oppose Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, said the timing of the bill was intended to distract attention from the charging of suspects arrested in connection with the arson attack on a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Douma.

Nepal Sororized

Nepal Sororized

The Need to Avoid Condemnations on an A Priori Basis

As detailed in a previous article, entitled “Reassessing Reform, Revolt and Revolution” on of the great obstacles to reaching critical mass for a political discourse is, among other, the condemnation of NGOs based on an a priori principle.

A-priori condemnations are not only divisive and prohibiting movements from reaching critical mass; They are also among the strongest instruments in the toolkit of those social engineers who are engaged in the attempt to maintain a status quo. One of the most obvious examples would be the pitting of e.g. the political left against the right.

Another example would be the a-priori condemnation of e.g. everything published by any given NGO because it receives funding from specific sources. To mention a few obvious examples? The a-priori condemnation of Greenpeace as “western agent” in Russian media when the NGO launches an action against a Russian oil rig while omitting the fact that the same NGO also launches actions against US oil rigs.

amnesiainternational400Admitted, all of the above have been politicized and all of the above have been involved in unethical practices, have been instrumentalized. It would, however, be a fallacy to condemn these organizations on a a-priori basis. Journalists Without Borders may have issued a report that misrepresents e.g. the comparative freedom of the press in respectively Russia and the USA; The same organization has, however, pointed out that a large number of journalists in e.g. Pakistan have been targeted for assassination.

Again, the operand question for those who want to bring about political change may not be whether this organization is biased, but whether it can be used to improve the freedom of the press and stop the killing of journalists in e.g. Pakistan. In other words, one may consider one of the fundamental principles of guerrilla warfare and apply it to this discourse. Use what ever tools you have available, especially the weapons of your enemy.

Another fallacy would be to compare these NGOs with directly State funded organizations like USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, or similar, respectively Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan, and other overtly or covertly State-run organizations. Even here, an a-priori condemnation may be problematic. Not least because such a-priori condemnations are irreconcilable with the fundamental principles of guerrilla strategies. Again, there is no country in this world that is a Utopia and there is legitimate political dissent everywhere.

If there is something positive to be said about the proposed Israeli bill it is that it provides one more opportunity to rethink and debate the issues with foreign funded, State and privately funded NGOs and their respective roles. There is not one country where there is no basis for legitimate (not necessarily identical with legal) dissent. The ultimate measure ought to be whether or not any NGO empowers the powerless or oppressed, which strings may or may not be attached. A good opportunity for reassessing reform, revolt and revolution.

CH/L – nsnbc 30.12.2015

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Reassessing Reform, Revolt and Revolution

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