Jerusalem accuses EU of giving €5 million to NGOs that back Israel boycotts

Ministry urges Europe to make funding contingent on commitment to not promote BDS; EU insists it reject boycotts, but will defend free speech

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally in Paris, France, June 3, 2010, as they demonstrate against Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship; a man in the foreground wears a T-shirt calling for a boycott on Israel. (Jacques Brinon/ AP /File)
Protesters shout slogans during a rally in Paris, France, June 3, 2010, as they demonstrate against Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship; a man in the foreground wears a T-shirt calling for a boycott on Israel. (Jacques Brinon/ AP /File)

The Strategic Affairs Ministry on Wednesday accused the European Union of funding organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to the tune of millions, urging Brussels to make any financial aid to NGOs contingent on an explicit commitment to opposing boycotts of Israel.

The EU responded by saying that it opposes BDS, but will defend freedom of speech, noting that it similarly rejects actions to “close the space” for civil society groups.

In a new 34-page report, the ministry said the EU had given more than €5 million (about NIS 21 million) to at least 10 NGOs that promote boycotts against Israel.

The report, entitled “The Money Trail: European Union Financing of Organizations Promoting Boycotts against the State of Israel,” showed that two prominent pro-Palestinian NGOs, Al-Haq and Al-Mezan, were last year awarded a multiyear grant of over €750,000.

“The time has come for the EU to begin a deep reexamination of its policies,” Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.

“Instead of hiding behind empty statements, the European Union needs to implement its own declared policy and immediately cease funding organizations that promote boycotts against the State of Israel.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 13, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The report stated that funding for “seemingly legitimate causes enables BDS-promoting NGOs to channel other funds to advance the delegitimization and boycott of the State of Israel.”

The fact that the EU funds groups that support BDS, even if the actual money is designated for other purposes, gives those organizations “enhanced legitimacy,” which, in turn, helps them secure grants for anti-Israel activity, the report argues.

In the report, Israel urged the EU to “immediately implement” certain recommendations, including stipulating that any future funding to NGOs be “contingent on a commitment not to promote” boycotts of Israel.

It also called on the EU to halt funding to NGOs “with connections to terror groups.”

The ministry’s report further quoted a December 2018 report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the EU’s financial-audit body, which urged the union to be more transparent about its funding of NGOs.

“The ECA warned that the European Union lacks sufficient information and transparency as to how these funds were distributed or spent,” Erdan’s ministry said in a statement.

In response to the ministry’s accusations, a spokesperson for the EU’s delegation to Israel noted that the ECA’s report found the union’s selection of NGO-led projects “to be generally transparent” and in accordance with international transparency standards.

“We stress that the Audit reviewed EU cooperation across the world, and did not make any specific findings regarding funding of Israeli or Palestinian NGOs,” the spokesperson told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The EU has “very strict rules to screen and vet the beneficiaries of EU funds,” the spokesperson went on, vowing to seriously investigate any allegation of misuse if it is presented with substantive evidence.

Brussels’ opposition to the BDS movement has not changed, the spokesperson added.

“While it upholds its policy of clearly distinguishing between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied by it since 1967, the EU rejects any attempts to isolate Israel and does not support calls for a boycott,” she said.

“The EU does not fund actions that are related to boycott activities. At the same time, the EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

On its Twitter feed, the EU mission in Ramat Gan wrote that individuals or groups that are “related to the BDS movement” are not necessarily involved in incitement to commit illegal acts and are not automatically ineligible for EU funding.

The EU “stands firm in protecting freedom of expression” even if it some ideas may offend or disturb some people,” the mission tweeted, adding: “Any action that has the effect of closing the space for civil society organisations should be avoided.”

All EU engagement vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “serves the key EU policy objective of a peaceful solution by advancing and ultimately achieving a viable two-state solution.”

Wednesday’s tit-for-tat was not the first time Erdan and his ministry have clashed with the EU.

In the first installment of the “Money Trail” report, issued in May of 2018, the ministry alleged the EU funds nonprofit groups that not only campaign for boycotts of Israel but in some cases even have ties to terror groups.

At the time, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini responded to Erdan, accusing his ministry of spreading disinformation.

In a letter, Mogherini objected to “any suggestion of EU involvement in supporting terror or terrorism” and warned that “vague and unsubstantiated accusations serve only to contribute to disinformation campaigns.”

“Allegations of the EU supporting incitement or terror are unfounded and unacceptable,” she wrote. “We are confident that EU funding has not been used to support boycott of Israel or BDS activities and certainly not to finance terrorism.”

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, speaks during a EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) at the European Council in Brussels on November 20, 2018. (John Thys/AFP)

On Wednesday, the EU spokesperson told The Times of Israel that an analysis had found that the allegations made in the May 2018 report were “unfounded and factually incorrect.”

Following the publication of the first “Money Trail” report, the EU embassy invited Israeli authorities “to engage in a productive dialogue on civil society as foreseen by the EU-Israel Action Plan,” she said.

“This offer was not responded to, but still stands. We consider it unfortunate that again unsubstantiated material is being publicized without prior dialogue and engagement.”

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