Like Zimbabwe’s government, Israeli government suspicious of foreign-funded NGOs

Nov 15, 2011

Ideologically poles apart, neither the Israeli nor the Zimbabwe government would find it flattering to be said to have much in common with each other. But they do display a similar deep suspicion of foreign-funded human rights organization.

 Since it came under sustained Western criticism over governance issues, particularly those to do with ‘democracy and human rights,’ the Robert Mugabe government has been wary about NGOs funded by the West to ostensibly promote those values. It suspects that many of them act under that broad cover to actually be agents for ‘regime change’ on behalf of the Mugabe-hostile Western governments.

NGOs with a political bent have therefore been under great suspicion and are frequently attacked by prominent members of the government as ‘sell outs.’ The government makes little distinction between the general promotion of democracy/human rights and activities that are seen as aiding its political opponents.

It is easy to dismiss the government’s concerns as the paranoia of an embattled, repressive government no longer confident of its popularity, and with a bad reputation in influential parts of the world. There is a lot of truth to that characterization.

Yet the Mugabe government is probably also justified in worrying that efforts to undermine supported by powerful Western governments that would definitely prefer to see another government in its place can take many non-obvious forms. Examples of various kind of regime change witnessed in the world in recent years show that it is not out of the realm of possibility that there are NGOs and other ‘civil society organizations’ that are deliberately used to actively influence specific political outcomes, rather than to just generally increase awareness of citizens’ rights and access to ‘democracy and human rights.’  

In the specific case of Zimbabwe, some of the NGOs claiming to be non-partisan campaigners for democracy and human rights share very close historical, ideological and other links to the MDC, the main foe of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Mugabe and his party find it therefore very difficult to separate foreign support for such NGOs from at least indirect support of its opponents.

Is it correct for such specific political targeting to be funded and therefore to a degree influenced by foreign money? Part of the answer is evident in the fact that many of the countries that fund political NGOs and other bodies abroad have laws tight regulations against such foreign funding themselves.

While in the West Zimbabwe is generally considered a human rights and democracy-thwarting multi-party state, Israel is generally in good books with those who consider themselves arbiters of such things. It is considered a full and genuine, western-friendly politically open society with nothing to fear from NGOs promoting democracy and human rights, regardless of the source of their funds.

It is therefore interesting that Israel has caused uproar by seeking to severely restrict the foreign funding of such NGOs, which goes even beyond what the Mugabe government has done in Zimbabwe against NGOs whose motives it is strongly suspicious of.

The story:

An Israeli cabinet committee has voted to pass legislation backed by the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu that would cut tens of millions of pounds in foreign funding to human rights.

The ministerial committee for legislation passed two bills, one of which
limits all funding for non-governmental organizations from foreign bodies, including the United Nations, to 20,000 shekels (£3,300) a year. The other seeks to tax all contributions to NGOs by foreign states.

Those who support the bills say many NGOs are political groups working under the guise of human rights to "delegitimise Israel.”

In a typical reaction, the EU ambassador to Israel said passing the legislation would “threaten Israel's standing as a democratic state.”

More on the government’s position:

Eleven ministers voted for the bill, while five voted against. A senior Israeli official defended the government position: "It is not good for democracy to allow foreign governments to be directly involved in political activities.

"In Britain, you had a very open and democratic debate about the Iraq war. How would the British public feel if they discovered France or Russia had funded one side of that debate?"

It is an entirely legitimate question for any sovereign state to ask. When the Mugabe government does so it is dismissed as an illegitimate despotic regime in Western circles, while Israel’s asking of it is considered startling because it is so close to and friendly with most of the nations from which the NGO funding emanates. But the principle is the same: objection to foreigners having leverage to influence political change that should be under the full control of locals; citizens.   


Post a Comment