NGO Monitor, the far-right Israeli anti-Palestinian advocacy group that poses as a transparency watchdog, is stonewalling about whether it is using tax-exempt funds raised in the US and UK to pay off legal costs awarded against its director Gerald Steinberg in a failed, frivolous lawsuit against the European Union.
On 2 January, The Electronic Intifada wrote to Steinberg asking, “In the interests of transparency can you categorically state whether any funds raised via REPORT UK or REPORT in the US will be used toward the legal costs awarded against you in the [European Court of Justice] judgment?”
REPORT UK and REPORT (formerly American Friends of NGO Monitor) are respectively non-profit organizations established in the UK and US under charity laws in each country to raise and channel tax-exempt donations to NGO Monitor.
A reply today from an NGO Monitor email account ignored the question entirely, and simply stated, “Here is a link to our report on Dutch government NGO funding, which we thought would be of interest to you.”
The link provided goes to a completely irrelevant page on the NGO Monitor website which summarizes its various grievances against Palestinian and other human rights organizations which NGO Monitor alleges have received Dutch government funding.
NGO Monitor, which is itself funded among others by a US foundation that finances Israeli propaganda depicting Africans as monkeys, does not provide any evidence that the groups have done anything improper. It appears simply to object to any organizations that monitor Israeli abuses or disagree with its extreme anti-Palestinian policies existing.
In 2010, NGO Monitor, along with The Jerusalem Post was behind a campaign to smear The Electronic Intifada over funding received from the Dutch foundation ICCO, which The Electronic Intifada debunked in a detailed response at the time.
Human Rights Watch director raises questions about use of funds
The issue of how NGO Monitor is using charity funds was raised in a 2 January tweet by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who asked, whether “Israel defender” NGO Monitor was “deceptively raising tax-exempt funds to pay costs imposed on founder for frivolous suit?”
Human Rights Watch has also been a frequent target of NGO Monitor smear campaigns. Roth linked to a 1 January post on the personal blog of Brian Whitaker, former Middle East Editor of The Guardian:
A vociferous campaigner against NGOs that criticise Israel is appealing for money following a disastrous legal action in the European Court of Justice. His supporters in Britain are being urged to make donations through a registered charity – in effect, with a subsidy from taxpayers.
Whitaker summarized Steinberg’s legal woes:
In 2008, Steinberg (who according to court documents is a UK citizen) wrote to the European Commission requesting “access to a series of documents relating to funding decisions for grants to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs under the ‘Partnership for Peace’ (PfP) programme and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).”
He was eventually granted partial access to the documents, with redactions. The European Commission claimed it was legally entitled to withhold some of the information on grounds of public interest, protection of individuals’ privacy and protection of the commercial interests of third parties.
Dissatisfied with this, in 2010 Steinberg began a legal action against the European Commission to force full disclosure (application document here). In remarks to the press at the time, he accused the EU of a lack of transparency in its funding of NGOs, many of which he said were “demonising” Israel.
At the end of November, the European Court of Justice threw out Steinberg’s case without an oral hearing. It ruled that his claim was “in part, manifestly inadmissible and, in part, manifestly lacking any foundation in law.”
The court accepted that the European Commission had valid reasons for withholding some of the information. In its ruling, the court said:
Refusal of access to the blanked out passages of the requested documents is, in essence, based on the apprehension that the detailed information on the projects in question which they contain could be used to exert pressure on the persons concerned, which may range from the publication of newspaper or internet articles to hate-mail campaigns and even threats to their physical or moral integrity, and thus disturb public security.
It added that Steinberg had not “put forward the slightest argument to show that the Commission made a manifest error of assessment in finding that there was a high risk that the activities of the NGOs in question would attract hostile attention which could result in threats to the moral and/or physical integrity of the various persons concerned and thus disturb public security, with the result that it was necessary to blank out certain detailed information on the projects in question in the requested documents”.
The full text of the court’s ruling is here, and there is also an article about it on the +972 Magazine website. Steinberg was ordered to pay his own legal costs as well as those incurred by the European Commission.
Appeal for funds
Whitaker noticed that coincident with this financially disastrous court judgment, NGO Monitor put out a vague appeal for funds by email and on a website:
In an appeal for funds via the NGO Monitor website, Steinberg does not directly state that he lost the case or provide a link to the court’s ruling. Nor does he mention that he is personally liable for the costs. Instead, he portrays the affair as “a major embarrassment” for the EU:
“The Court’s ruling highlighted the EU’s secretive support for political advocacy NGOs, thus increasing pressure for the release of the classified documents. Although the Court allowed the EU to continue hiding its NGO decision-making, this public admission of non-transparency is a major embarrassment.
“Help NGO Monitor lead a major political and media effort to compel the EU to release the documents exposing how 600 million euros in taxpayer funds have been spent on radical anti-Israel NGOs.
“We need $50,000 to crack the EU/NGO wall of silence. Your gift by December 31, 2012 will enable us to achieve this goal.”
Whitaker is careful to state:
There is no suggestion that any of the $50,000 will be used to defray Steinberg’s legal costs. Apparently it will be used for “a major political and media effort” to crack the EU’s “wall of silence” – though given the failure of the court case that may well be money down the drain.
But NGO Monitor’s subsequent refusal to answer a straightforward question about how the funds will be used leaves the question hanging.
That lack of transparency for the group is, alas, nothing new.