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Israel declares war on peace groups

By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler | Last updated: Jan 8, 2010 - 10:55:40 AM

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JERUSALEM (IPS/GIN) - One year after the devastating attack on the Gaza Strip, a new wave of reports accusing Israel of war crimes has emerged.

Now, Israel is fighting back with a report on the reports, picking on international advocacy groups—also known as non-governmental organizations or NGOs—such as Amnesty, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Trocaire , Finn Church Aid, Diakonia and Cordaid.

The immediate target of Israeli ire is a collective report entitled “Failing Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses,” issued by these NGOs, based in Europe.

“These organizations continue to exploit moral, legal and humanitarian principles in order to promote political warfare against Israel,” says Gerald Steinberg, president NGO Monitor, a right-wing Israeli NGO. “Many of the claims in this report are not supported by credible evidence, and reflect double standards.”

“Through this systematic bias regarding Israel, these NGOs have lost respectability, and the European governments that fund such attacks share responsibility for this abuse,” says Mr. Steinberg.

Part of what inspires pro-peace NGOs operating in the troubled climate of the Middle East is the conviction that they can step into the breach that divides Israelis and Palestinians in order to prod them to prod their governments to revive peace prospects.

As Israel feels increasingly isolated in the wake of the Goldstone Report, about alleged war crimes during its Gaza war, the hard-line right-wing Israeli government is choosing to wage war by proxy on all Israeli pro-peace NGOs.

The Goldstone Report, presented by Justice Richard Goldstone, head of the UN fact finding mission to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Sept. 29, 2009, accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes, but has been the subject of trenchant criticism from pro-Israeli groups.

For years Israeli peace organizations and human rights groups have enjoyed financial and moral support from many western governments in Europe and, to a lesser extent, from Washington. Many reports by international groups were compiled with the support of Israeli peace activists.

The attempt to discredit peace groups has intensified as human rights violations have increased and settlement activity expanded, contrary to the peace credo of many western states.

It was into this heated atmosphere that the NGO Monitor entered to spearhead the Israeli counter-offensive with its report titled, “Trojan Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs.”

NGO Monitor was established by Mr. Steinberg, a political scientist and security affairs analyst, together with a prominent Israeli settler leader and columnist, Yisrael Harel.

The report formed the basis of a December conference in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The NGO Monitor said, “By using the generous resources made available by the external donors, the Israel-based NGO network is able to promote particular political ideologies, and to oppose the policies of the democratically elected government on many issues.”

“This hidden foreign intervention infringes on the sovereignty and independence of Israel by unbalancing the political process, and interfering with the policies of the elected government and the mainstream Zionist majority.”

Among the groups targeted by NGO Monitor are B'Tselem, which just marked 20 years of activity in highlighting Israeli human rights abuses under the occupation, and Ir Amim which keeps tabs on developments in occupied East Jerusalem

In the Knesset conference, the government was exhorted to clamp down on foreign funding which NGO Monitor says “both manipulates domestic politics and undermines Israel's international legitimacy.”

Didi Remez, formerly a spokesman for the Peace Now group, says campaigners against the peace organizations “would have us believe that they are acting in the interest of national security” against “fifth columnists.”

“NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques—blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts.”

Related news:

Death toll passes 1,000, over a third are children (FCN, 01-14-2009)

Palestine: If Americans Knew (FCN, Alison Wier Interview, 12-24-2007)

Israeli military checkpoints map (Jews Against the Occupation)

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