Netanyahu’s office parrots baseless spin on foreign funding of NGOs

The fierce backlash against attacks on Israeli human rights NGOs has pushed to the front an old argument against foreign funding for these groups. Various right wing columnists and politicians have been parroting it, but now you hear it from Netanyahu’s office as well:

As for questioning the legitimacy of foreign government funding of Israeli NGOs, mentioning America’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) may have presented a more balanced picture… It is hard to imagine any democratic country accepting foreign governments intervening in its domestic affairs by funding domestic groups engaged not merely in criticism of a particular government’s policy but also attacking the very foundations of the State.

Ron Kampeas tears this argument apart quite effectively, and I have just two comments to add.

First, “attacking the very foundations of the State”? Are you serious? B’tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights – these groups are attacking the foundations of the state? This statement proves the very point the PM’s office is trying to counter. Democracy is in serious crisis when the head of government considers calls to restrain the military and avoid harm to non-combatants as an attack on the very foundations of the state.

Second, the comparison to FARA is ridiculous, as Kampeas notes. But you do not have to take my word for it. Just look at the list of entities registered under that act. You will not find a single human rights organization there. But, you might say, this just proves that foreign governments would not be so brazen as to fund groups advocating controversial policy change in the US.

You would be wrong. In 2009, for example, the EU gave 2.6 million Euros to six groups advocating for abolishing the death penalty in the US (Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights, Death Penalty Information Center, American Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education, Reprieve, Witness to Innocence Corporation, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty). One of these groups, Reprieve, was even given money to mobilize public opinion in Europe against the American use of capital punishment.

Two thirds of Americans, both major parties, and almost all members of congress, support the death penalty. The EU is investing millions each year in advancing a politically marginal position, supported by a relatively small minority of Americans. None of the groups funded by the EU are registered under FARA (again, see for yourself). Also, no one in the US thinks this situation is outrageous, forms a committee of inquiry on this issue, or promotes legislation against these NGOs.

So, no, Netanyahu, what is happening in Israel is not “normal,” and other nations in the same situation, including the US, react quite differently.