Israel reacted angrily Wednesday to a letter in which a senior European Union official assured the Palestinians that membership in or affinity to a terrorist organization does not automatically prevent a person from being eligible to participate in EU-funded programs.
While the European Union insists that no money goes to individuals pursuing terror activities, Israel is protesting the fact that Brussels says funds can still go to projects or programs that will benefit supporters of an outlawed group, such as a grant to a researcher who is also affiliated with Hamas.
“We view this letter with great severity. This is in violation of all our agreements with the European Union, and we intend to send a strong message to its representatives about this,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel.
The Foreign Ministry summoned the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, for a dressing down over the matter. He is expected to be rebuked Thursday by the ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, Anna Azari.
The Strategic Affairs Ministry, which is charged with countering the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, slammed the bloc as well. In a response sent to The Times of Israel, a ministry spokesperson cited its longstanding claim that the EU funds pro-Palestinian NGOs that promote BDS and in some cases have ties to terrorist organizations.
“Over several meetings with EU officials it was made clear that any funding for these NGOs must be stopped immediately and scrutinized carefully to ensure no funds are transferred to terrorists or terrorist related activities,” the official said.
In a letter dated March 30, the East Jerusalem-based head of the EU’s mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, sought to clarify a provision in EU grant agreements with Palestinian civil society organizations.
In recent months, Palestinians had protested that these contracts include a stipulation that no person or entity listed on the EU’s terrorism blacklist, known as a “restrictive list,” could benefit from EU programs or funds. It was impossible to check the personal background and political affiliation of every single applicant, Palestinian groups complained.
Seeking to counter this “misinformation campaign,” von Burgsdorff wrote a three-page letter to the Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO Network, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel.
“While the entities and groups included in the EU restrictive lists cannot benefit from EU-funded activities, it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname… corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists,” the letter stated.
Von Burgsdorff further wrote that the union does not ask any Palestinian NGO to “change its political position toward any Palestinian faction.”
The letter’s content was first reported by Israel’s Army Radio.
While several Palestinian groups — including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — are listed by the EU as terrorist entities, no individual Palestinians are mentioned by name.
Responding to a Times of Israel query, a spokesperson for the EU delegation in Ramat Gan acknowledged that there is “no legal impediment” for people to participate in EU-funded activities unless are explicitly listed on the union’s terrorism blacklist or formally represent one of the listed organizations.
At the same time, the EU has “extremely strict monitoring and control mechanisms in place to make sure that all individuals involved in EU-funded actions exclusively pursue the objectives and activities approved for EU funding,” the spokesperson added. “The EU does not fund any activity that is related directly or indirectly to violence, or incitement.”
The 27-member bloc has “strict rules to screen and vet the beneficiaries of EU funds,” the spokesperson stressed. “Among other obligations, all recipients of EU funding are required to ensure that such funds are not made available, either directly or indirectly, to entities, individuals or groups, which have been designated under EU restrictive measures.”
Any organization found to have misappropriated EU funds must pay back the entire sum and may lose eligibility for future support, the spokesperson went on. “These are not new requirements and apply to all recipients of EU funds.”
But Olga Deutsch, the vice president of NGO Monitor, a watchdog that has long been critical of the EU’s support for Palestinian civil society groups, read von Burgsdorff’s letter as an assurance to Palestinian NGOs that they can still get funds and legitimacy from Brussels even if they are affiliated with EU-designated terrorist groups.
“The EU should be careful not to surrender to local pressure, from Palestinians or anyone else, and make sure public funds do not end up in the hands of those connected to or supporting terror,” she said.
“Since the pandemic started, the EU pledged even more assistance to the PA — 71 million Euros — ten percent of which will go to NGOs. Making sure this money goes where it’s truly needed is the minimum due both European taxpayers and those Palestinians that the EU says it wishes to assist,” Deutsch added.