Israel calls on EU to cease funding pro-boycott groups

JERUSALEM—Israel called on the European Union (EU) on Friday to halt funding to more than a dozen European and Palestinian non-government organizations (NGOs) that it said promote boycotts against Israel, saying the financial support violates the EU’s stated policy that it opposes boycotts against the Jewish state.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry published a report with a list of groups that it said receive EU funding and call for boycotts against Israel. It said some of the groups had links to militant groups while receiving EU money.

The report was the latest salvo by Israel in its fight against a global movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions over its treatment of the Palestinians. The movement, known as BDS, has urged businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel and it includes thousands of volunteers around the world.

Supporters of the movement said the tactics are a nonviolent way to promote the Palestinian cause. Israel said the campaign goes beyond fighting its occupation of territory Palestinians claim for their state and often masks a more far-reaching aim to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.

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“The state of Israel expects the EU to act with full transparency and reveal the scope of its financial aid to organizations that have ties to terror and promote boycotts against Israel,” the report said. “Israel strongly urges the EU to fully implement in practice its declared policy of rejecting boycotts against Israel, and to immediately halt funding to organizations which promote anti-Israel boycotts and de-legitimization.”

The EU said it hadn’t received any “communication from the government of Israel” on Friday’s report and that the bloc is confident its “financing does not go to support terrorism” or boycott efforts.

“We are, of course, happy to review any relevant information received concerning EU funded activities. Money from the EU budget may only be spent for the purpose for which it was contracted, under strict transparency rules and is subject to extensive monitoring requirements,” the EU statement said.

Israel said the NGOs received a total of €5 million ($5.9 million) in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the ministry report.

It accused some of the NGOs of having links to Palestinian militant groups, listing among others Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which received more than €1.7 million ($2 million) in 2016 and claiming the group had links to Palestinian militant groups.

The US Justice Department announced in April that the group reached a settlement with the United States over accusations that it had provided “training and expert advice or assistance” to the Islamic militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip, as well as other Palestinian militant groups and Iran. As part of the settlement, NPA “admitted to and accepted responsibility for its conduct” and agreed to pay more than $2 million. The US, along with the EU, considers Hamas a terror group. NPA said it wanted to see the list before commenting.

Other groups singled out in Friday’s report included the British organization War on Want, the Dutch anti-war group PAX, as well as a number of Palestinian groups, including PNGO Net, an umbrella organization that works to coordinate Palestinian civil society.

Munjid Abu Jaish of PNGO Net called Friday’s report “another Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and their institutions.”

“We will continue our legal nonviolent struggle according to the international law, regardless of the results, because we believe in this path,” he said.

The call to the EU follows other steps Israel has taken to ratchet up its fight against the boycott movement. Earlier this year, Israel identified 20 activist groups from around the world whose members would be banned from entering the country over their calls to boycott the Jewish state.

For its part, the EU has recommended that its member states put special labels on exports from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It has stopped short of banning settlement products, but they do not receive the same tax emptions that products made in Israel receive.

The EU has upheld the free expression rights of its citizens to call for a boycott of Israel but has stressed that the body opposed any boycott of Israel.

In the years since its formation, the BDS movement has persuaded several church organizations to divest themselves of Israel-related investments and has garnered support on US college campuses. Recently, pop singer Lorde joined a number of other artists who have canceled performances in Israel amid pressure from BDS activists.

Even so, a slew of other musicians have defied boycott calls and performed. Israel has also enjoyed new economic partnerships and diplomatic ties despite calls for boycotts, and it has become a top destination for international sporting and cultural events. Earlier this month, Israel became the first non-European country to host stages of the Giro d’Italia cycling event.

 

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Turning Points 2018