The Electronic Intifada 18 October 2005
NGO Monitor, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has for some time now been deliberately spreading false and misleading information about organizations in an attempt to discredit them. Their targets include some of the most established and respected human rights organizations. While their efforts to stifle a critical dialogue have proved unsuccessful, their efforts are relentless and it is important that they be exposed as part of an extremist, right wing institution. They should not be taken seriously by anyone interested in peace and human rights.
What kind of “debate”?
NGO Monitor, a web-based project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was founded jointly with B’nai B’rith, a long-time, vocal supporter of Israel in the US.
To an outsider, NGO Monitor appears to be a serious and neutral initiative. NGO Monitor states that it is “promoting critical debate and accountability of human rights NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict” [sic]. However, on closer examination, it is very obvious that the “debate” NGO Monitor is referring to is one that offers a blanket rejection of any criticism of Israel and its violations of human rights. It begs the question of whether NGO Monitor has any idea of what a “debate” actually is.
In fact, NGO Monitor shows that the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in line with most other vocal supporters of Israel, is keen on vilifying any and all critics of Israel and conveniently ignoring the human rights violations and war crimes of Israel and its security agencies.
Poorly researched data
Relying on very poorly researched data, NGO Monitor targets several, well established, objective and internationally respected organizations, based on their critical views and/or position on Israel. These include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Ford Foundation, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Caritas and even several United Nations Agencies and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Even Israeli organizations, including Betselem, Hamoked and Human Rights Association, are the focus of NGO Monitor’s wild and misleading propaganda.
Some of NGO Monitor’s so-called “analysis” is humorously simplistic. Human Rights Watch, whose board includes some of the most prominent Jewish human rights lawyers in the United States, is accused of pursuing “political and ideological objectives in concert with international demonisation of Israel”, while the long-established Ford Foundation is accused of providing “funding to a number of human-rights based NGOs”. A report by Amnesty International is accused of being “couched in the rhetoric of human rights and international law, but without the substance” and NGO Monitor actually dares to criticise Amnesty for a failure “to note the clear evidence that the Israeli security policy has saved many lives”.1
In fact, the main criticism NGO Monitor offers of organizations on its “hit list” are that they are “politically biased”, which seems a stunningly crass statement coming from them.
Truly extremist organizations ignored
While established, respected organizations are vilified, truly extremist organizations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF),2 which considers itself as “caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners - Jewish People everywhere” and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which openly describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby”,3 conveniently escape the NGO Monitor’s attention. Equally, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Simon Wiesenthal Center, which consistently promote a distorted, one-sided perspective of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians “on behalf of the Jewish people” and pay no attention whatsoever to Israel’s violations of human rights and humanitarian law, escape the NGO Monitor’s “radar”.
These omissions are, of course, hardly surprising. The obvious intention of the NGO Monitor, just like the JNF, ADL Wiesenthal Center and other uncritical supporters of Israel, is to promote a distorted, one-sided perspective of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and to studiously avoid a dialogue of any sort on Israel’s violations of international law. How can anyone take such an organization seriously?
Strong links to the Israeli government and the militaryRemarkably, some people do take NGO Monitor seriously. However, this may be easily explained by its high profile government and military connections — some of who have been accused of war crimes.
The blatantly distorted “analysis” of the NGO Monitor and its spreading of false information makes it simply a mouthpiece for its host organization, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. So who runs the NGO Monitor?
Publisher Dore Gold was the permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations (1997-1999) and served as foreign policy advisor to two Likud party prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which hosts the NGO Monitor, and was director of the U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy Project.
NGO Monitor’s editor, Gerald Steinberg is a consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Security Council. He is a Professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University, an institution that has, in recent years, been targeted for boycott because it supports a campus in Ariel settlement on occupied Palestinian territory.
Other members of NGO Monitor’s “team” include individuals with a long history of one-sided criticism and blind loyalty to the Israeli government.
Managing Editor Noah Joseph has a long-history of extremist, right wing student activism. He was at one time co-president of Hillel Concordia, a pro-Israel student association at Concordia University in Montreal. In October 2002, as co-president of an organization called Hillel Concordia, he was responsible for a visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to the campus. Students who were outraged at this invitation responded by blocking the entrance to the University.
In December 2002, the student union at Concordia University voted a motion to shut down the pro-Israel student group because Hillel was distributing materials on campus recruiting overseas volunteers for the Israeli military, which was a violation of Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act. At an emergency meeting where it was decided to reinstate Concordia Hillel, the Concordia Student Union decided not to restore its student union funding until the organization agreed to sign a document pledging that it would not promote war. Not surprisingly, Hillel refused to sign.
Other staff also have close links with the Israeli government and the military, including NGO Monitor’s webmaster Aharan Etengoff, who served in the Photography & Film and Public Relations Departments of the Israeli Army (IDF) Spokesperson’s Office from January 2003 to March 2004.
Hiding atrocities behind a name
The NGO Monitor tries to make its wild allegations sound credible by affiliating itself with an “Institute” with a neutral-sounding name, but in fact is itself deeply embedded in the military.
The Institute of Contemporary Affairs (hereafter referred to as the Institute), which runs NGO Monitor, is a five-year program that hosts current and retired Israeli military staff, including commanders that have been accused of serious human rights violations and war crimes. The Institute is directed by Lenny Ben-David who frequently complains about “Israel-bashing”. It is guided by a Steering Committee that includes NGO Monitor publisher Dore Gold and spokesperson Gerald Steinberg.
The Institute has published articles by several military commanders, including Doron Almog, who chose to remain on board a plane that landed in London last month rather than face a pending arrest warrant in the UK for alleged war crimes, referring to his actions in the Gaza Strip as the division commander. Responding to the incident, NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg said in the Jerusalem Post that EU-funded non-governmental organizations, which backed the case, were exploiting “the language of human rights to pursue the goal of political genocide”. Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer practising human rights and criminal law in Tel Aviv, offered some real clarification as to why an arrest warrant had to be issued in the UK. Writing in the newspaper Ha’aretz, Sfard accused the Israeli justice system of shirking its responsibility to investigate war crimes.4
The Institute has also published articles by Major General Dan Haloutz. During his tenure as Air Force Commander between 2000 and 2004, Haloutz approved and oversaw operations that caused the deaths of countless Palestinian civilians, including numerous children. In July 2002, Haloutz ordered the Israeli air force to drop a one tonne bomb on a Gaza apartment complex, aimed at Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh, which ultimately also killed fourteen civilians, including ten children. At a recent hearing at the Israeli High Court, Halutz commented, “What do I feel when I drop a bomb? A slight bump in the airplane”.
A spokesman for Israeli peace organization Yesh Gvul, Yishai Menuchin said, “there are orders that decent people do not give, and all the justifications and evasions from responsibility will not clear them. Halutz is party to a war crime and must pay for it.”
Rather than come clean with the atrocities of its own government, and indeed its very own staff, the Institute hosting NGO Monitor demonstrates that it does not take issue with alleged human rights violators and war criminals. Moreover, NGO Monitor does not even attempt to contradict cases documented by human rights organizations. It simply labels them as “demonising Israel”.
NGO Monitor’s association with the Israeli government and the military serves the sole purpose of trying to silence any critical voices that speak about Israel’s violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
NGO Monitor will not stifle a critical dialogue
Fortunately, NGO Monitor’s efforts have only brought very limited results. Were it not for the highly amateurish nature of its reporting, and had anyone illusions that the organization was seriously committed to a “debate”, there would no doubt be a public outcry that the work of NGO Monitor was dangerous and an obstacle to peace.
In fact, NGO Monitor should not be taken seriously by anyone committed to peace or to exposing Israel’s repeated violations of international law and its demonstrated lack of respect for the international community.
The analysis of Political Research Associates (PRA), an organization which “works to facilitate public understanding of the threat posed to human rights by oppressive and authoritarian right-wing movements in the United States”, provides a useful perspective. PRA describes NGO Monitor as a
conservative NGO watchdog group … which focuses on perceived threats to Israeli interests … the ideological slant of NGO Monitor’s work is unabashedly pro-Israeli.5
Advocates for peace and human rights in Palestine would do well to relegate the Jerusalem Center, its Institute of Contemporary Affairs and especially Dore Gold’s NGO Monitor, with its poorly researched, yet hate-filled messages, to the lowest possible level of “dustbin journalism”.
Yacoub Kahlen and Robert E. Foxsohn are psuedonyms. Both authors are journalists and political commentators. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. For this particular claim, the NGO Monitor includes a link to the website of the Israeli military
2. Jewish National Fund
4. Justice should begin at home, Joshua Rozenberg, The Daily Telegraph (15 September 2005)
5. Policing Civil Society: NGO Watch, Jean Hardisty and Elizabeth Furdon, The Public Eye, Vol. 18, No. 1 - Spring 2004.