BDS’s EU Benefactor by William Mehlman

The European Union’s record of dealing from the bottom of the deck in respect to the funding of Israel’s enemies would have reddened the cheeks of a Mississippi riverboat card-sharp. Its flippant justification of its actions has given sophistry a new meaning.

In virtually a single breath – a single press release, in this case – Federica Mogherini, its foreign policy chief, reaffirmed both the EU’s “opposition to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign as an attempt to isolate Israel” and the EU’s condonation of a parallel attempt by its individual national constituents to blacklist the Jewish state under the rubric of “freedom of expression and association.” Admittedly, Mogherini’s foggy attempt to erect a policy stance out of a grab-bag of ill-fitting political and moral components came in response to a “gotcha” question foisted on her in the European Parliament by Sinn Fein politico and Israel hyper-critic Martina Anderson. Anderson, who heads the EP’s “Delegation for Relations with Palestine,” was fishing for a commitment under the EU’s name to the “protected free speech right” of its “citizens” to boycott Israel, rebuffing claims by Jerusalem that any such privilege would nullify the EU’s official ban on anti-Semitic activity.

As most of that activity is pursued through a network of anti-Israel NGOs, the “free speech” nod Mogherini accorded  its BDS fans  only further weakens the EU’s long-held contention that its funding of specific projects – economic, social, artistic – mounted by an NGO  is distinct from any commitment  to the NGO as a whole, regardless of its involvement in BDS. “In other words,” as Tamar Kogman, a researcher on NGO-Monitor’s European desk observed, “what  happens outside of ‘project hours’ is none of the EU’s concern.”   So the debate here is not whether the EU should uphold the assumed  right of its “citizens” to participate in BDS campaigns, but rather, as Kogman sees it, “whether the EU should be handing out taxpayers’ money to NGOs that support a policy in direct contravention of  stated EU policy.”

The question appears to have been definitively answered in “EU Funding to NGOs Active in Anti-Israel BDS Campaigns,” a study released in late January by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.  Its findings are nothing less than eye-opening. From its pages the European Union emerges as the single largest financial supporter of NGOs involved in the Arab-Israel conflict, accounting for NIS 28 million between 2012 and 2014. Forty two NGOs out of 180 EU grantees were found by the study to be in full support of BDS “through participation in its activities and events, the signing of petitions and initiatives and/or membership in specific BDS platforms.” Twenty nine out of 100 EU grants, amounting to 16.7 million Euros, roughly 25 percent of the EU’s entire “projects budget” were funneled to the recipient BDS-involved NGOs through a pipeline of country-based EU funder satellites. Additional EU pro-BDS funding, unaccounted for by the study, is even more indirect. For example, it notes, the fact that “the EU may fund to a church or humanitarian aid group and the funds are then transferred to a political NGO,” makes a  full accounting of the proportion and extent of EU money going to pro-BDS beneficiaries anybody’s guess.

Given the fact that money is fungible, the EU’s boilerplate claim to financing only pre-vetted NGO projects and not NGOs as a whole, becomes utterly irrelevant. There’s no guarantee that the money or portions of it granted for an ostensibly laudable project isn’t being diverted to cover  the recipient NGO’s staffing, equipment, publicity campaigns, travel and other expenses unrelated to the project.  EU funding has been found by the study to comprise upwards of 50-75 percent of some NGOs’ entire annual budgets. To make matters worse, the researchers discovered that many grantees, including those in the pro-BDS camp, have featured the EU symbol on their publications and websites, bolstering their legitimacy and linking the EU with their overall activities.

Even putting aside the fungibility of money, “How does one determine exactly what falls under ‘project activities?’” Kogman asks. “Does calling for the cultural and academic isolation of Israel count as a ‘pathway toward self-expression,’“ as one passionately pro-BDS NGO insists? “Or is this just another ‘unrelated activity’ for which the EU cannot be held responsible?”

The small random sampling below of the EU’s largesse to those carrying the torch for BDS should put “paid” to any notion of its being an “unrelated activity.”  It’s the elephant in the living room. The grant givers named here are all European Union country-based satellites. The recipient NGOs are all prominent BDS supporters:

Between 2014 and 2016 the “Edward Said National Conservatory and Music Association” received grants totaling 1,641,000 Euros from “Cultural Programme” and “East Jerusalem Programme.” The Said NGO supports an ongoing cultural and academic boycott of Israel and was signatory to a letter to the BBC demanding the cancellation of a London concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

A grant of 481,773 Euros from “Partnership for Peace” to the “General Union of Palestinian Women” also makes for interesting reading.  Among other activities, the GUPW was the source of a March 2016 international “Women’s Call for BDS” and the initiator of a petition urging the mayor of Toronto to boycott a conference in Jerusalem and endorse BDS. A portion of the GUPW grant was reserved  for the “Culture  and Free Thought Association,” a participant in the “Women’s Call for BDS” and  author of an open letter to the Rolling Stones imploring the iconic rock band to cancel a scheduled appearance in Israel.

A three-year grant of 450,000 Euros  from the ”European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights” (EIDHR)  was shared by the  “Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture” (TRC) and the “Center for the Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights” (Hurryyat), a pair of NGOs with much in common. TRC has been pushing over the last ten years for “imposing measures against the Israel Medical Association.” It has also tried to pressure Bill Gates to divest from G4S, a UK security firm doing business in Israel. Hurryyat has targeted G4S in a “call for action” and is a prominent endorser and promoter of BDS through its membership in the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council.

“European Union funding to NGOs that deny Israel’s right to exist,” NGO Monitor’s Knesset Affairs Liaison Lena Bakman told YNetNews, “not only contradicts diplomatic norms between states that have bilateral relations as well as  the EU’s stated opposition to BDS, it is a blatant intervention in the internal issues every sovereign country has the right to shape without outside interference. Would it,” she asks, “be conceivable for Israel to fund the Basque resistance movement in Spain, the Flemish separatists in Belgium? How would London react to Israeli support for Scottish and Welsh separatist movements in the UK?”

Better yet, she might have added, how do these stalwart defenders of national sovereignty and their European compatriots explain their virtual silence in the face of an attempt by the UN Human Rights Council to launch a data-based black list of every company in the world with business interests in Israeli communities beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines. Approved by 32 of the UNHRC’s 47 members (the U.S. had no vote and the  other 15, including Britain, France and Germany, “heroically” abstained), UNHRC had scheduled a February  27th debut of its handiwork, but possibly with an eye on the new occupant of the White House, decided to hold off until September. A united EU stand against this outrageous new UN assault on the Jewish state might very well ensure that it never sees the light of day.

It’s your call Madam Mogherini.


William Mehlman represents AFSI in Israel.

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