Last September, a group of Israeli citizens filed freedom of information requests to force the Israeli government to reveal its financial support to foreign organizations, individuals, journalists or bloggers assisting Israel in its battle against what it calls “delegitimization.”
The two departments that received the requests – the strategic affairs ministry and the foreign ministry – have replied, each claiming that they have no working relationships with such foreign entities.
This is baffling, according to attorney Eitay Mack, who prepared the requests, since Israel has allocated tens of millions of dollars to fight the global movement for Palestinian rights, and especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
“Unless the two ministries have lied to us, the fact that no foreign elements abroad have been willing to officially join the global campaign which the state of Israel conducts for the perpetuation of the occupation, attests to the failure of this campaign,” Mack observes drily.
In reality, the strategic affairs ministry alone has an annual budget of more than $40 million dollars. But it only has a couple of dozen employees. All this money “is obviously not used just for the salaries of its relatively few workers, but for contracts with various elements, whose identity, as well as the criteria for the cooperation” the ministry refuses to disclose, says Mack.
“It is not clear at all what the two ministries’ official definition of delegitimization is,” Mack states, “and it seems they regard their struggle against foreign citizens who criticize the state of Israel as a military campaign.”
A cool million
The strategic affairs ministry, headed by Gilad Erdan, spearheads Israel’s effort to thwart the growing Palestine solidarity movement.
The ministry is reportedly engaged in secret “black ops” which, according to a veteran Israeli analyst, may involve “defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists” as well as “infringing on and violating their privacy.”
In April, The Electronic Intifada revealed the name of the strategic affairs ministry’s “intelligence chief” – Shai Har-Zvi – which like the names of its other employees is a state secret.
The strategic affairs ministry and the foreign ministry are also fighting a turf war over who should lead Israel’s global anti-Palestinian struggle.
In January, an undercover Al Jazeera investigation into Israel’s efforts to influence British politics revealed clear evidence that Israel is spending large sums of money to influence foreign governments and societies to support its violations of Palestinian rights.
The Al Jazeera film The Lobby shows Israeli embassy political officer Shai Masot telling Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan that he had “more than one million pounds” approved in Israeli government funding to bring UK lawmakers on junkets to Israel.
The film also reveals that the Israeli embassy funds the Union of Jewish Students, which has played a key role in the UK’s Israel lobby.
In April, The Electronic Intifada exclusively published an internal Israel lobby report evaluating efforts to fight BDS.
Prepared by the Reut Institute, a think tank closely tied to Israel’s political-military establishment, and the Anti-Defamation League, the report states that pro-Israel groups have increased their spending to combat the Palestine solidarity movement twenty-fold over the last six years. Yet despite these tens of millions of dollars, the report states, “results remain elusive.”
“Under the radar”
The report does not say that this funding comes from the Israeli government and much of it likely comes from private sources. But the strategy the report outlines for how to take forward Israel’s battle against justice for Palestinians is specifically endorsed by strategic affairs ministry director-general Sima Vaknin-Gil.
The close working relationship between the Israeli government and its surrogates around the world would undoubtedly provide opportunities to channel and coordinate funding in ways that are opaque.
“We want most of the ministry’s work to be classified,” Vaknin-Gil told the transparency committee of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, last year. “There are many sensitivities, and I can’t even explain in an open forum why there are such sensitivities,” Vaknin-Gil said. “A major part of what we do stays under the radar.”
“The sweeping secrecy with which the two ministries have conducted their actions is inappropriate, particularly in view of the Israeli government’s position as to human rights nongovernmental organizations which receive foreign funding,” says attorney Eitay Mack.
Under the guise of promoting “transparency,” Israel had been imposing onerous requirements on human rights and civil society groups critical of its policies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even recently proposed severely restricting “left-wing” organizations like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, which document Israeli army abuses, from receiving foreign government funding.
As US and EU taxpayers effectively subsidize Israel’s occupation, adds Mack, “there should obviously be transparency as to the funding provided by the state of Israel to nongovernmental organizations, groups and individuals abroad who support its policy of continuing the occupation in the foreseeable future.”
Mack says that “surprisingly” the foreign ministry’s response to the information request said the justice ministry may hold relevant information, and he immediately followed up by submitting a request to that department.
In light of the government’s stonewalling so far, Mack asks: “Where is the money? What have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs done with the enormous budget they had received for countering delegitimization?”
For now, it is a mystery where Israel’s dark money is going.