Critic of Israel/Palestine NGOs loses case

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.

Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel, is president of an organisation called NGO Monitor which seeks "to end the practice used by certain self-declared 'humanitarian NGOs' of exploiting the label 'universal human rights values' to promote politically and ideologically motivated agendas". 

In an article published in 2005, Steinberg wrote:

"With their multi-million-dollar budgets, global superpowers such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and dozens of smaller allied groups have contributed to the hatred, rather than supporting peace [in the Middle East]. Their activities amplify the rhetoric that labels Israel as an 'apartheid regime' and Jews as 'imperialists' and 'colonialists', while whitewashing terror and condemning Israeli defensive actions."

More recently he has turned his attention towards Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that receive EU funding. 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 articleabout it on the +972 Magazine website.

Steinberg was ordered to pay his own legal costs as well as those incurred by the European Commission.

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."

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.

The NGO Monitor website goes on to say: "Contributions in GBP £ are tax-deductible in the UK, through gifts made to REPORT (UK)" via an address in London.

According to the Charity Commission's records, REPORT (UK) was registered as a charity last September and operates in England and Wales and Israel. Its stated objects are somewhat vague:

1. "To educate about and advance civic responsibility."

2. "Such charitable purposes for the public benefit as are exclusively charitable according to the laws of England and Wales as the trustees may from time to time determine."

The charity gives its website as This is the website of a US-based organisation which is also called REPORT ("Research + Evaluation = Promoting Organizational Responsibility and Transparency, Inc") and which was previously known as American Friends of NGO Monitor, Inc.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 January 2013.