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Who is Funding Radical Left Groups in Israel?


Editorial Note

IAM has posted a number of articles on academics backing the Zochrot group, including Adi Ophir, Ariella AzoulayYehouda Shenhav(TAU), Hannan Hever, Louise Bethlehem (HUJ). These and their ideological peers support a bi-national state with a right of return for the Palestinians.

Shenhav went so far as to suggest that the binational state should build new villages for the returning refugees and create tribunals for adjudicating disputed urban centers such as Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa.   
Zochrot collects exhibits featuring archival footage of Palestinian life prior to 1948.  The group does not neglect the future either; it recently held an exhibition on "imagining" the binational future.
IAM has reported on the funding of radical groups, listing governments, trade unions, sources, religious groups and foundations, among others.  In the case of Zochrot, the funding, as the article below details, comes from charities associated with mainline Christian churches as well as the Catholic Church. 

Complicating matters is that many of the groups that fund Zochrot and many other radical activists in Israel, are supported by European governments.  Still, others receive funding through grant "clearing houses" like the Tides Foundation. 

More information on funding networks at the conference "BDS Against Israel: On Campus and Beyond" on Wednesday, the 14th of May 2014 at 6pm in Tel Aviv University, Max Webb Building, Hall 1. The public is invited to attend.

Op-Ed: Why are Christians funding Israel’s anti-Zionist fringe?

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The State of Israel is celebrating its 66th birthday. For Israelis, Jews around the world and all supporters of Israel, this is a joyous occasion. By and large, even Israelis who are critical of some of their country’s policies nevertheless celebrate its remarkable accomplishments and contributions to the world.

Amid these celebrations, there is a minuscule group of Jewish Israelis who support Palestinian rejectionist ideology and identify with the “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”) narrative. The importance of this unrepresentative fringe is inflated far beyond its numbers due to support from some powerful Christian institutions, including Catholic frameworks.

For example, Zochrot (Hebrew for “remembrance”) is an Israeli NGO whose activities are made possible in large part through the support of European church aid agencies. It aims to “raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba” and to “recogniz[e] and materializ[e] the right of return.” In this way, Zochrot is overtly political, promoting a radical vision for the Middle East that does not include the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality.

Zochrot supports the “one-state” framework and implementation of the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” of the millions of people who claim to be descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. This directly contradicts the “two states for two peoples” formula supported by the international community, including the government funders of the church aid agencies that serve as Zochrot’s benefactors.

In this vision, Israel would become a bi-national entity with an Arab majority. Or as explained by Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein, “When the refugees return, Jews will become a minority in the country. Israel as a Jewish state will change radically, and it will no longer be defined as such.” In this scenario, Jews would return to the pre-1948 predicament of everywhere being minorities, vulnerable to the whims of sometimes-hostile majorities.

Funding for Zochrot’s radical campaigns and agenda comes from powerful European Catholic and Protestant aid framework such as Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), HEKS (Switzerland), Finn Church Aid (Finland), MISEREOR (Germany), CCFD (France), ICCO (Netherlands), Christian Aid (UK), and Trocaire (Ireland). These organizations are funded by European governments that officially support the two-state solution. Zochrot’s activities, then, undermine these governments’ own policies.

For instance, Broederlijk Delen is a Flemish Catholic “development and peace” NGO. With a massive budget provided in part by the Belgian government, it funds many highly politicized NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including Zochrot. In 2012, Broederlijk Delen gave 50,000 Euros to Zochrot, out of which 40,000 Euros originated with Belgian taxpayers.

This funding enables many of Zochrot’s activities. For example, the heads of this fringe group joined a 2012 trip to South Africa, sponsored by HEKS, in order “to learn from cases of expulsion and return.” Afterward, Zochrot co-published “The Cape Town Document,” which states, “It is our hope that the new political structure created in de-Zionized Palestine will be that of a single democratic state.”

More recently, in September 2013, Zochrot held a conference called “From Truth to Redress: Realizing the Return of Palestinian Refugees” to further spread its agenda of Israel’s disappearance. At the time, Zochrot’s funders sought to justify their support under the guise of promoting refugee rights and justice, reflecting a lack of due diligence and serious engagement by the funders.

It is startling that so many Christian groups fund an NGO that openly rejects Israel’s existence, the single most important manifestation of Jewish empowerment and self-determination in the world today. Such activities are clearly not conducive to Jewish-Christian reconciliation or to finding a realistic solution to the conflict. Instead, they echo the tortured history of Jewish persecution and marginalization in European Christian societies and the extreme demands of radical groups.

In a few weeks, Israel will welcome Pope Francis, who has long demonstrated his close ties with the Jewish people. It is hoped that he will send a powerful message of true peace by stating firmly and without equivocation that the vision of a world without Israel clearly contradicts church teachings. This is a message that the officials of powerful Catholic aid agencies who channel money to groups that demonize Israel will need to internalize.

(Emily Ziedman is the communications associate at NGO Monitor.)


Why are European powers (and Oxfam) funding a radical Israeli group?

By Jake Wallis Simons December 17th, 2013

In a grimy corner of downtown Jerusalem, tucked away on the top floor of an anonymous-looking block of offices, is the headquarters of an organisation called Breaking the Silence.

This is a group of former Israeli soldiers who have served in the West Bank, and aim to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”.

They accomplish this via a database of testimonies that offer first-hand accounts of human rights abuses by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). They also organise tours of the West Bank, offering “an unmediated encounter with the reality of military occupation”.

Essentially, this is another anti-settlement group. But it derives especial power from the fact that it is made up of former members of the Israeli armed forces, who are willing to confess openly to their own wrongdoing and that of their comrades.

Although I had been aware of this organisation for a long time, my first encounter with it came last summer. I was spending some time on the West Bank, carrying out interviews and research for Meet the Settlers, an in-depth Telegraph multimedia feature about the Israeli settlements.

I was looking forward to interviewing members of Breaking the Silence. The group had been highly recommended to me by various people, including a British diplomat who had taken part in one of their tours in an official capacity (a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that “FCO staff maintain links to a wide variety of non-government organisations, including the Israeli non-profit group Breaking the Silence”).

I liked all the members personally, and at first found them to be sincere in their beliefs. But when the interviews began, something didn’t feel right.

For one thing, the majority of the testimonies seemed to reflect the roughness of the military rather than any human rights abuse. The indignity of checkpoints; the intrusion of house-to-house searches; the unpleasantness of curfews. All of this stuff is awful, but only a small percentage of it appeared to warrant court martial.

Some of the material was genuinely shocking, of course, and it is beyond dispute that IDF soldiers do indeed commit human rights abuses. This is something from which all armies suffer (to wit, Marine A); whether the Israeli military is guiltier than others is a debate for another time.

For now, my point is this: I couldn’t shake the feeling that Breaking the Silence was milking it.

It was only a hunch at first. But later, the bias of the organisation became clearer. During a break between interviews, I asked Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the organisation, how the group is funded. It was with some surprise that I learned that 45 per cent of it is donated by European countries, including Norway and Spain, and the European Union. Other donors include UNICEF, Christian Aid and Oxfam GB. To me this seemed potentially problematic.

As is the case in all democracies, the IDF is an organ of the state, not a political decision-maker. If the goal of Breaking the Silence was simply to clean up the Israeli military, it wouldn’t be such a problem. Instead, the aim is to “end the occupation”, and on this basis it secured its funding.

It appeared, therefore, that these former soldiers, some of whom draw salaries from Breaking the Silence, were motivated by financial and political concerns to further a pro-Palestinian agenda. They weren’t merely telling the truth about their experiences. They were under pressure to perform.

Indeed, I later discovered that there have been many allegations in the past that members of the organisation either fabricated or exaggerated their testimonies.

The matter became more unsettling when one of Breaking the Silence’s former soldiers accompanied me to Hebron, a thriving Palestinian city in the southern West Bank. This is the only Palestinian city to have a Jewish settlement embedded in its centre, and as such is the most acrimonious and violent place in the region.

Whereas most settlements are surrounded by relatively lightweight security – some of the most ideological outposts refuse to put up fences on principle, because they believe they have a God-given right to the entire area – Hebron is segregated into Palestinian and Jewish sectors, and a military buffer zone has been established between them. (You can read about my journey through the city, and watch the accompanying films, here.)

We set up our video camera outside an army base in the Israeli sector of Hebron, and I began to interview the former soldier from Breaking the Silence. He was talking about his army service, and came out with the line, “the first time I ever met a Palestinian was when I entered his house in the middle of the night”.

While he was speaking a car drove by behind him, drowning out his words. I said: “Just give me it one more time about how… the first time you ever met a Palestinian was when you kicked down his door in the middle of the night”. This was my mistake; he hadn’t said that he kicked down anything.

He duly repeated it. This time, however, he took my lead and changed his account from “entered his house in the middle of the night” to “kicked down his door in the middle of the night”. On the surface it may seem like a small detail. But when we played back the tape I found the ease with which he exaggerated his story very troubling. We didn’t use the interview.

Most worryingly of all, Breaking the Silence focuses almost exclusively on Hebron, presenting it as typical. Several times a month it ships foreign diplomats, officials and ordinary folk to this unhappy place, showing them the grim military infrastructure and providing testimony about the abuses carried out by settlers and soldiers.

The group does not offer tours to any other settlements on the West Bank (there are about 120 of them, and roughly the same number of illegal outposts). Its lectures and exhibitions are likewise focussed on Hebron and its environs. This one city, they say, is a “microcosm of occupation”.

Now, there is no doubt that Hebron is a highly disturbing place, or that violence takes place there on a regular basis. But all the anti-settlement organisations I spoke to, including Peace NowB’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights, acknowledged that Hebron is the exception rather than the rule. Most settlements are far more peaceful and less abusive. A few even have supermarkets where Arabs and Jews shop side-by-side.

This isn’t to justify the existence of the settlements, or to soften the debate about their legality. It is to illustrate the simple point that Breaking the Silence appears to be sexing up the harshness of the Israeli presence on the West Bank by focussing only on its very worst manifestation. That is to say, it is warping the terms of the debate. And it is funded largely by Europe, and by extension the UK.

Whatever your view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is surely self-evident that it must be based on the truth of the situation, not a biased and partial interpretation of it.

It is debatable whether Breaking the Silence should be criticised for publicly undermining their own military, and showing no impulse to view with leniency the actions of soldiers in extremis (again, think of Marine A). But the fact that their personal testimony is harnessed to a political agenda is indisputably problematic.

The European Union (together with the overwhelming majority of world opinion) believes that the Israeli presence on the West Bank contravenes international law. As such, it is able to put pressure on Israel through various channels; recently, for instance, it imposed a requirement to label all produce made in Israeli settlements as such.

These measures all have some basis in legitimacy. Funding Breaking the Silence, in my view, does not.

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