The pro-Israel group NGO Monitor hunts for hidden motives where there are none. It has made many baseless allegations that human rights activists are hostile towards Jews.
Displaying enormous hypocrisy, NGO Monitor appears happy to ally itself with actual peddlers of bigotry. This week, it is jointly hosting an event in the European Parliament with a representative of the far-right Danish People’s Party.
Anders Vistisen, the politician in question, would be a suitable candidate to run Donald Trump’s Nordic fan club – if such a thing exists. In some respects, Vistisen has acted as a vanguard for the politics of division that the US president espouses.
Trump made his infamous call for a Muslim entry ban in December 2015. Vistisen urged similar measures in Denmark almost two years before then.
More recently, Vistisen has advocated that a barbed-wire fence should be erected on Denmark’s border with Germany in order to keep refugees out. He also favors the Australian model of detaining refugees in large camps.
Amnesty International has found that the Australian authorities have been deliberately cruel towards refugees. Those who arrive in boats are forcibly transferred to what Amnesty calls “abusive” camps in Nauru and Manus Island.
Vistisen’s party promotes racism and religious intolerance.
Its former leader Pia Kjaersgaard has complained of Copenhagen hosting ethnic groups “at a lower stage of civilization.” Other members of the party have proposed that refugees be shot and that pressure be applied on Muslims to attend Christian services.
Although Vistisen styles himself as a champion of transparency, he is helping NGO Monitor to use deceptive tactics.
The flyers for this week’s event indicate it will focus on “evaluating” the impact of European Union funding to human rights and environmental organizations. There is no mention of the Middle East or explanation that NGO Monitor is an Israel lobby group.
The uninitiated could easily think, therefore, that NGO Monitor is some kind of charity watchdog.
This is not the first time that the group has been less than open.
Earlier this year, it circulated a paper in the European Parliament on funding of campaigning organizations. That paper, too, failed to spell out that NGO Monitor has a pro-Israel stance.
Details provided by NGO Monitor to a register of lobbyists working on European affairs are comparably misleading. The only hint of the group’s Middle East focus is that a Jerusalem address is given for its head office.
I phoned Laura Silva from NGO Monitor’s Brussels office, asking why she is teaming up with the Danish far-right. She evaded that question by pointing out that other politicians are involved in next week’s event.
When I asked if NGO Monitor was itself a far-right organization, she replied: “I will not comment.”
NGO Monitor’s staff try to find clever and convoluted arguments to justify Israel’s crimes. Gerald Steinberg, the group’s founder, has contended that human rights are “utopian idealism” and “divorced from the reality of bitter and very violent conflict in much of the world.”
A new paper by NGO Monitor defends firms active in the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank. Although all of the settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law, NGO Monitor suggests that firms operating within them are not violating human rights. This argument is at variance with the findings of most reputable lawyers.
NGO Monitor has strong connections to the Israeli government. Steinberg has worked as a consultant for the Israeli foreign ministry and other official bodies.
He draws on the same sources of funding as some key players in Israel’s settler movement. One named donor of NGO Monitor, the Orion Foundation, also gives money to Elad, a group that seizes Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem so that they can be taken over by Israelis.
NGO Monitor has its own fundraising arm in the US. Previously known as American Friends of NGO Monitor, the fundraising division now calls itself REPORT.
Donors to REPORT – such as the Klarman Family Foundation – are known to have supported Elad, too.
NGO Monitor prides itself on asking awkward questions about human rights organizations and how they are funded. The bitter irony is that for all the accountability it demands from others, NGO Monitor is coy about what it is really up to.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 June 2017.