Watching the Watchers



Even for a long-time critic of the fringe Israeli NGO calling itself “Breaking the Silence” (BtS), I was not expecting the revelations of their involvement in gathering classified or sensitive information on IDF methods, equipment, and tactics. Like other Israelis, I knew that the activists in this NGO travel the world promoting anonymous allegations of terrible and systematic Israeli violations of international law (“war crimes”), and that they have a following among audiences that have no understanding of Israeli realities, as well with people who simply hate us.


In order to make their emotional argument convincing, they strip away the context of Palestinian terror and thousands of rocket attacks, leaving only a highly exaggerated, embittered and invented version of Israeli responses. But this blind ideological crusade, couched in the language of human rights and opposition to the post-1967 “occupation”, seemed far removed from the apparent espionage activities depicted on Israel Channel 2.

The responses to these revelations, when added to the broader BTS agenda, have also ensnared and embarrassed their funders and enablers, which include many European governments. Together, these funders give over $1 million every year to a handful of radicals and messianists, under the official façade of educating Israelis regarding human rights and international law, and unofficially, to use in manipulating Israeli politics to promote the objectives and prejudices of some European government officials. With this money, BTS leaders hold events in churches, parliaments, universities, and UN conferences promoting entirely unproven claims of Israeli “war crimes”. Such activities have, in turn, created a great deal of anger among many Israeli citizens, leading to proposed legislation designed to highlight the foreign funding provided to favored political NGOs.

The European Union is one of the major funders for this crusade, including the addition of €250,000 to the BTS budget in August 2015. Officially, the grant was provided for “Educating for Change: Human Rights Education in Israeli Society” – apparently the anonymous EU officials who secretly vet NGO applications and decide on how taxpayer funds are spent did not know or care about the evidence showing that there is almost no overlap between BTS and Israeli society.

BTS also gets money – about $150,000 for 2014/5 plus unspecified “emergency grants” – from a Ramallah-based network financed by the governments of Switzerland, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. These governments together gave $15 million for four years to the Human Rights and International Law Secretariat housed at Bir Zeit university, and this amorphous mechanism allocated the money to over 20 groups that actively lead campaigns of demonization, lawfare, BDS, and in some cases, undisguised antisemitism. Although formally governed by a steering committee with officials of the four funders, there is no evidence that the committee and governments exercise the due diligence expected from funders. When I and other NGO Monitor researchers show top officials and members of parliament details regarding the activities of their grantees, including BTS, they express shock and surprise.

The French consulate in Jerusalem is another source of funding for BTS. Here again, taxpayer funding is provided without any explanation or justification. One can only image the anger and indignation that would follow a decision by a German or British government office to fund a Paris-based version of Breaking the Silence, touring churches, parliaments and university campuses with anonymous claims of war crimes conducted by French anti-terror forces or troops that fought in Mali. The scenario is absurd, except when it involves allegations against and demonization of Israel.

At the bottom of the funding pyramid for Breaking the Silence stands the US-based New Israel Fund (NIF), composed of wealthy self-proclaimed and progressive pro-Israel donors who constitute a form of alternative government working and operating outside any of the democratic checks and balances. A small group of NIF officials provide seed money and help their NGOs file applications and gain access to the European state funders, which then increase the existing budget many times over. This is path followed by B’tselem, Adalah, Mossawa, Gisha, Coalition of Women for Peace, +972, and many other NGOs opposing the policies of the elected Israeli government. In recent months, the European Union has provided major new grants to nine Israeli organizations in the NIF network.

Like the European government funders (but using private rather than public state funds – a significant difference), the NIF makes its allocation decision in tight secrecy, and mistakes in judgment are frequent. The support given to Breaking the Silence is one of the NIF’s biggest mistakes, and the damage will take years to reverse.

If nothing else, the revelations of gross misconduct by BTS leaders should give these funders pause and force them to review and revamp their decision making processes, rather than condemning the proposed Israeli legislative remedies. The revelations in this case suggest that there are other cases of failed judgment resulting from the absence of due diligence in providing public monies to irresponsible and ideologically motivated NGOs. Before the next scandal is exposed, the NGO donors – particularly in the EU and among European governments, as well as the NIF and others – would do well to freeze all new allocations, and engage in detailed negotiations for meaningful funding guidelines.

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