The European Union on Wednesday denied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the bloc had agreed to halt its funding for an Israeli association of left-wing groups, saying it was merely “examining possible breaches of contractual obligations.”
A day after Netanyahu declared that the decision to terminate funds for the Freedom Protection Council stemmed from Israeli pressure, the EU said in a statement that such decisions were “for the EU to take, and for the EU alone.”
Israel charges that the Freedom Protection Council, established in 2017 by Arab-Israeli media freedom NGO I’lam, seeks to “delegitimize” Israel.
It is composed of representatives of dozens of leftist Israeli NGOs including B’Tselem and Adalah, with the stated objective of fighting attempts to limit democratic freedoms in the country and resisting attacks on human rights groups.
It has been accused by right-wing websites and organizations of incitement, of describing Israeli actions in terms of “apartheid” and “war crimes,” and of working to undermine legislation pushed by the government.
“The EU is examining possible breaches of contractual obligations by the beneficiary of EU funds in Israel for a project called the ‘Freedom Protection Council,'” a spokesman for the EU said, appearing to deny Netanyahu’s insinuation that the step was politically motivated. “We will take further steps on the basis of the assessment.”
“The EU rigorously implements all contracts signed with beneficiaries of EU funds in accordance with the strict financial rules in place,” the statement continued.
“In this regard, decisions by the EU to fund or to terminate funding for specific projects implemented by civil society organizations legally operating in a third country are decisions for the EU to take, and for the EU alone,” it said.
The statement concluded by saying the EU “remains firmly committed to protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. We will continue to support civil society organizations which play an essential role in any democratic society, in fostering pluralism and in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values, in Israel, in the EU and across the world.”
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that “following diplomatic efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the European Union announced it will immediately halt its funding for and association with the ‘Freedom Protection Council,’ an NGO operating in Israel.”
The statement said the association “undermines Israel’s right to exist and tries to blacken the state’s image around the world.”
Netanyahu was quoted as saying: “This is just the beginning. We will continue to take determined action against organizations that try to delegitimize the State of Israel and strive to blacken the state’s and the IDF’s name around the world.”
According to the Delegation of the European Union to Israel’s website, the EU originally said it would supply the Freedom Protection Council with more than €400,000 in funds between January 2017 and December 2019.
“The overall objective of this action is to ensure active engagement of Civil Society Organizations by countering systemic barriers that limit their participation in policymaking processes,” the EU said on its website.