Who Funds Political NGOs in Israel?

Recent campaigns by politicized NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have brought the question of NGO funding to the fore of Israel’s policy debate. Reactions have included proposed legislation in the Knesset, as well as editorials in local and international newspapers. Even the U.S. Ambassador to Israel has weighed in – indicating the centrality, and delicate nature, of this issue.

In this context, NGO Monitor’s new database, which provides data on all donations to 27 politicized Israeli NGOs in the years 2012-2014, will help facilitate a more responsible, professional conversation.

Where does our data come from? According to Israel’s Non-Profits Law (1980), NGOs must submit an annual financial report listing all their donors. In addition, as of 2011, NGOs that receive funding from “foreign governmental entities” – meaning a government body or a supposedly non-governmental group that receives most of its budget from a foreign government – must submit quarterly reports to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits (Rasham Amutot) with details on such funding and the purpose behind the donations.

These laws provide a good framework to inform the Israeli public about funding to local NGOs, in particular monies originating from foreign governments, and should be seen as a model for funding transparency.

However, the data are disparate, and any meaningful analysis requires extracting this data from a variety of sources and trying to make sense of it. At NGO Monitor, we decided that the available information should be more accessible and navigable.

As mentioned, our research tool collates data from annual reports over three years (2012-2014), dedicating an entry for every donation recorded by 27 political NGOs during that period. Users can sort by NGO, year, and donor, and can also filter by donor type (private or governmental) and funding originating from church groups. (A separate tool created by NGO Monitor allows for similar analysis of donations reported in NGOs’ quarterly submissions to the Registrar.)

How did we choose the NGOs that appear in the database? NGO Monitor’s research involves over 150 NGOs worldwide, 40 of which are registered in Israel. The 27 NGOs in the database meet all the following four criteria: They are registered Israeli non-profit associations; active politically in the Arab-Israeli conflict; have received at least one (direct or indirect) grant from a foreign government; and have carried out a considerable part of their activities abroad, such as involvement in UN “investigations” into Israeli military operations (i.e. Goldstone, Schabas-Davis), attempts to generate International Criminal Court proceedings against Israel, and/or lobby European and American governments.

A quick glance at this information shows a total of approximately $66 million in grants and donations. Contributions originating from governments account for 65% of these funds, while various private individuals and foundations provided 34%. Only 1% remained unclear.

Our online resource also allows for analyses at a higher resolution. For instance, each NGO and its funders can be examined on their own. Research of this type was conducted by NGO Monitor staff, who found that more than 20 NGOs received over half of their donations from foreign governments.

We also looked at the constitution of specific NGO budgets. For example, Zochrot is an NGO that promotes an anti-peace, “one state” agenda aimed at dismantling the Jewish State of Israel. Despite this agenda, or perhaps because of it, this fringe NGO received some 80% of its donations from church aid societies funded by the governments of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Ireland, and others.

B’Tselem is another interesting case study. B’Tselem claims to be the “leading human rights NGO in Israel,” despite having one employee caught making anti-Semitic statements and another who was recently arrested by Israeli authorities after he planned to inform the Palestinian Authority about a Palestinian who allegedly intended to sell land to Jews. Palestinians who sell land to Jews are guilty of a capital offense under the PA’s penal code. When analyzing B’Tselem’s financial backers, we found 30% of its funding to be direct governmental aid, 35% donated by church aid societies or other NGOs, and 35% from private sources – mostly from abroad.

The database also allows for broader analyses, as well. The database makes it easier to see which Israeli groups are funded by supporters of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns against Israel. Trocaire, for instance, an Irish church aid society that receives significant funding from the Irish and other governments, provided around $500,000 to seven different groups.

There is much more to learn from our online research tool. We encourage decision makers, government officials, journalists, and the public to explore the data and obtain the facts and figures they need to make sound, informed judgements and policy decisions.

In this respect, we hope this database will be a modest contribution towards strengthening the transparency and accountability of Israeli NGOs.

Itai Reuveni is a researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.

[Photo: Philip Brewer / Flickr ]