To fulfil their vision of how Israel should conduct its affairs and eventually arrive at a two-state solution, many Western countries actively interfere in Israeli politics. They do so directly through diplomatic channels and indirectly by funding Israeli NGOs that agree with their agenda.
Western governments and the NGOs they’ve enlisted have engaged in everything from aiding and abetting the construction of illegal Bedouin settlements to destroying archaeological discoveries that prove the Jews are Israel’s indigenous people.
More recently, this government-NGO nexus has rejected and protested against the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms. U.S. President Joe Biden has gone so far as to condition American support for Israeli-Saudi normalization on this purely domestic issue.
The current Israeli government rightly views all this as a threat to its sovereignty. Thus, it recently introduced the Nonprofits Law, a bill that would curb foreigners’ ability to exploit Israeli NGOs by taxing 65% of the NGOs’ foreign receipts.
Western countries, naturally, have violently objected to the bill. Following the swift eruption of outrage, the Netanyahu government caved and shelved the bill.
The governments that objected to the Nonprofits Law claim to be acting in Israel’s best interests. They assert that they are protecting Israeli civil society and thus Israel’s democracy.
“A vital and strong civil society is crucial for every democracy,” tweeted Sweden’s Ambassador to Israel Erik Ullenhag. He claimed, “The draft bill on NGO taxation would severely limit Israeli civil society.” The French, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, Irish and Belgian embassies in Israel echoed this ostensible concern for Israel’s civil society.
These governments and their representatives in Israel have it backwards. The Nonprofits Law, which would have limited only that portion of civil society funded by foreign governments, would have bolstered, not weakened, Israel’s civil society.
Civil society, by definition, excludes government actors. It is defined as a “third sector,” separate from government and business. It is intended to act as a check on both. By pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into left-leaning NGOs that represent a small proportion of Israeli society, foreign governments are effectively inflating the influence of foreign-funded NGOs at the expense of domestically funded NGOs. This undermines Israel’s home-grown civil society.
In much of the West, NGOs have long since ceased to be independent of governments. They are now effectively agents of those governments and are sometimes called GONGOs—“government-organized non-governmental organizations.” GONGOs are set up or sponsored by governments in order to further those governments’ political interests. This is, at best, an empty mimicry of civil society.
Many of Israel’s foreign-funded NGOs are GONGOs. While the leaders of some Israeli NGOs are in complete agreement with their foreign paymasters, it is likely that others are reluctant participants. They need to reorder their priorities and adapt their policies in order to meet the demands of their foreign paymasters.
Such manipulation is very widespread in Israel. As noted by Kerem Navot, an organization that monitors and researches Israeli land policy in Judea and Samaria, foreign governments provide the vast majority of funding for left-wing NGOs.
NGOs that defy their funders face extinction and the loss of their employees’ livelihoods. Thus, as a practical matter, most have no choice but to do what they’re told.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel inadvertently confirmed this near-total dependence on foreign governments. Passage of the Nonprofit Law, it said, could lead to the “literal collapse of dozens and perhaps hundreds of NGOs.”
From the perspective of Israelis who want Israeli policies to be based on the views of Israelis, this proves that hundreds of Israeli NGOs are doing the bidding of foreign governments. These NGOs are, in effect, a Trojan Horse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed in his latest effort to curb foreign funding of NGOs, just as he failed in his 2017 attempt to ban all such foreign funding. But as long as he aspires for Israel to be a full-fledged sovereign state, he should not stop trying.