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Friends In Far Places: European Union Funding Israeli Leftists

By Steve K. Walz Jewish Press 7/18/01

(Tel Aviv) – The European Commission, a sub-group of the European Union, is busily underwriting the activities and projects of a number of left-wing organizations in Israel.

The sum of nearly five million Euros has been earmarked for 17 Israeli leftist organizations, many of which not only enjoy close ties to Peace Now but are alleged to have “back alley” connections to Palestinian Authority organizations.

Documents supplied to The Jewish Press show a clear pattern, beginning in late 1999, in the allocation of funds to Israeli organizations by the European Commission’s Middle East Directorate.

In addition to Peace Now, Israeli groups funded by the European Commission include:

• The Economic Cooperation Foundation, headed by Yair Hirschfeld, who helped initiate the Oslo process and is described as a “close associate” of left-wing activist Yossi Beilin (who served as justice minister under former prime minister Ehud Barak).

• Ir Shalem, a group closely associated with Peace Now. In addition to working to undermine efforts by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close Orient House (the de facto Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry), Ir Shalem has launched legal chal
lenges to block construction of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem’s Har Homa and Ras al-Amud neighborhoods.

• Macon Mifne – Religious Women For Peace, a project aimed, in the words of a European Commission document, at spreading “the peace message among radical Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the wide right-wing population supporting them in Israel.”

Since taking office earlier this year, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been wary of outside interference by the European Union, and a recent report in Ma’ariv indicated that the Knesset is exploring legal challenges to this practice.

Opponents of the European Commission’s funding practices point out that American law bars charitable organizations (which hold nonprofit status) from directly funding or becoming involved in a political organization.

In addition to the push for stricter laws on outside funding of Israeli organizations, a top lawyer here has begun to lay the legal groundwork for a court challenge to the fundraising practices of Peace Now, the largest and most well-known of the groups.

Though it is technically not illegal for Peace Now-Israel to accept money from outside sources, the left-wing group has in someinstances allegedly tried blurring its activities and sources of funding. Using the name Sha’al Shalom, this organization (which reportedly does not have non-profit status in Israel) accepts outside money for what it calls “educational projects.”

The Jewish Press has also learned of allegations that Americans For Peace Now (APN) funded nearly 90 percent of its Israeli counterpart’s budget for this year. If true, that could jeopardize APN’s non-profit status in the U.S. if the Knesset legal committee deems that Peace Now is not just a lobbying organization but a political movement.

Should that occur, APN would be vulnerable to legal challenges to its non-profit status and be forced to register as a foreign agent.

According to a legal document supplied to The Jewish Press, APN gave $2,029,500 to Peace Now-Israel for its 2001 fiscal year. Peace Now-Israel’s total budget for 2001 is allegedly $2,229,500.

Israeli and American legal experts as well as several Jewish organizations are presently tracing the sources of APN’s funding activities.

According to sources in Israel, legislation to restrict outside funding to lobbying (i.e. political) organizations is not expected to pass the first reading in the Knesset. (There have been allegations that several MKs from across the political spectrum are quietly receiving funding through these groups as well).

However, the sources tell The Jewish Press that a compromise to formally register some of these groups as foreign agents will be negotiated in the coming months.

TEXT: Letter from 52 MK’s calling on European Union to stop interfering in
Israeli internal affairs and to disclose their activities to date

KNESSET Jerusalem, 6 Tamuz, 5761 27 June, 2001

To: PM Guy Verhofstadt President of the European Union

It has been made public in Israel that the European Union has been providing
financial support to Israeli groups/institutions/organizations that are all
partisan and political in nature. This is a blatant attempt at interfering
in the internal affairs of the State of Israel. Attached is a list of these
organizations.

The European Union represents democratic states. Its democratic character is
an inherent part of its nature. As such, it should refrain from any attempt
to influence the internal democratic process of another democratic state.

We, the undersigned members of the Israeli Knesset, would like to express
our shock and outrage at this attempt at achieving political purposes by
extending financial support to Israeli citizens and groups.

As the elected representatives of a democratic, free society, we strongly
oppose such attempts at influencing our state’s domestic politics and the
policies of our government, by financial means.

In light of the gravity of these activities, we expect the European Union to
take the following measures:

1. Discontinue the financial support to Israeli non-profit organizations
that are politically oriented;

2. Publicly disclose the list of Israeli groups/institutions/organizations
which receive financial support from the European Union. The citizens of
Israel will thus be informed as to those organizations that are influenced
by, or are serving foreign interests, and EU member-states will be apprised
of the objectives of the of the expenditure of their money.

Considering that the European Union is a democratic institution, that
represents free and democratic nations, we are certain that it will act out
of similar respect for the sovereignty and freedom of the State of Israel.

Respectfully yours,

[Signed by 8 Ministers, 9 Deputy Ministers and 35 other Members of Knesset]

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