European countries funnel around $50 million a year to Palestinian terrorist entities via a series of nongovernmental organizations, according to NGO Monitor.
“Over the years the evidence for these connections has grown massively but the response remains slow,” Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor said during a panel discussion on Monday at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Ramat Gan.
The institute hosted the event to address the increasingly-established connection between foreign-funded NGOs and Palestinian terrorist groups.
“When 10s and 100s of millions of dollars go into terror-affiliated entities like Gaza on a regular basis, then there is a moral expectation on the donors, those who invoke the principles of humanitarian aid, to do the due diligence and set up guidelines to make sure that no money is moved from the humanitarian purposes over to terrorist entities. That due diligence has not been happening,” Steinberg said.
Emmanuel Navon, executive director of ELNET-Israel, told JNS, “This can be seen in publicly available information that many of these NGOs have very questionable affiliations, are very active in BDS [Boycott Divest and Sanction] activities, and push for the right of return [for the descendants of Palestinian refugees and emigrants], which is antithetical to the existence of a Jewish state in Israel.”
According to Steinberg, the issue of NGO involvement in financing terrorism first came up when questions began to swirl about the origins of the funding for terrorist groups based in the Gaza Strip.
“Almost nothing goes in or out of Gaza except for humanitarian aid and the major industry there is producing missiles to shoot at Israel. You have to ask where those materials are coming from,” Steinberg told JNS.
A series of private research initiatives into NGOs active in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed that many of them have open affiliations with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), including board members and high-ranking executives who are known members of the terrorist group.
Many other terrorist groups have also been shown be be affiliated with, and possibly scraping the coffers, of foreign-funded NGOs.
In one example, Israel arrested Muhammad el-Halabi, the Gaza manager of the World Vision International Christian humanitarian organization, in 2016 for funneling almost $50 million worth of World Vision Funding to Hamas. In 2022, he was found guilty of membership in a terrorist organization, financing terrorist activities, having transmitted information to the enemy and possession of a weapon.
These and other investigations began to show a pattern of foreign money, designated for humanitarian aid, being openly or potentially misused for terrorism purposes, with no attempt by the donors to vet the process.
“There is overwhelming evidence of this money being misused, This is not a question of narrative or perspective it is just a fact,” Navon said.
However, not everyone agrees that the situation is so clear-cut. Many European leaders, including some who are sympathetic to the Israeli cause, have denied the existence of any such connections.
“Regarding the accusations of NGO Monitor, we did a very controlled investigation of this whole issue and our security people did not find any cases of misuse of money, so no I do not think there is a real problem here,” Theo Francken, a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and a former state secretary for migration, told JNS.
“Currently there is no evidence whatsoever, but if the evidence is found we would be happy to act,” Francken said.
Steinberg, however, pushed back against this claim, saying, “There are already open cross membership between these organizations which should really raise some red flags. Besides that, often times the Europeans are satisfied if these organizations bring back a receipt for the money that they spend, but they are dealing with terror groups here and that is not the level of due diligence that is expected when you are pouring 10s of millions of dollars into terror entities.”
Francken confirmed in an interview that most of the vetting consists of checking receipts and keeping the money “accountable.”
“We do check that they spend the money correctly; there has to be some proof of the things they bought, like if they buy something for a hospital then they can not buy bombs,” he said.
“We have assets both on the ground and back in Belgium double-checking that everything is clean. What we are doing in Belgium is close to 100% secure,” Francken said.
Many factors contribute to European unwillingness to seriously investigate these issues.
“I think a major aspect here is just genuine apathy. A lot of the time you just have a minister who is doing exactly what his predecessor was doing and does not think to change policies with the changing evidence and reality,” Steinberg said.
Many of these terror-affiliated NGOs employ political strategies to immunize themselves from criticism. Many of them call themselves human rights organizations, which discourages people from attacking or investigating them because of the bad optics.
“In France, we had an organization called the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, and it is difficult to attack them because then you immediately seem to be against all Muslims,” Francken said.
Another factor that may be contributing to European inactivity is personal connections between Palestinian terrorist groups and European leaders.
According to Steinberg, some of the European leaders that his organization has approached have defended terror-affiliated NGO executives saying that they are “personally close with them and that they trust them.”
In a number of cases, European leaders have been seen openly interacting in a friendly manner with known terrorists.
Most recently, Sven Koopmans, the E.U.’s Middle East peace envoy, was photographed standing smiling next to Salah Hamouri, a PFLP member who was convicted of plotting to assassinate the chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef. In some cases, this relationship goes to the familial level. Sigrid Kaag, the current Dutch minister of finance and deputy prime minister, is married to Anis al-Qaq, a former Palestinian Authority deputy minister and PLO ambassador.
“It is unclear how major of a factor these personal relations are in European decision-making but they are certainly having some effect,” Steinberg said.
According to experts, the final factor in this equation is the general anti-Israel sentiment in Europe.
“There is a very strong anti-Israel position in many places in Europe, and it is sometimes very hard to work on projects that look like they are helping Israel. I was criticized for even saying that I am coming to speak on counterterrorism in Israel, because people think Israel is a terror-adjacent state,” Francken said during the panel discussion.
The current strategy to reverse this reality is to increase efforts to confront political leaders with the growing evidence of NGO-terror group affiliation.
“There are already politicians who have been approached by ELNET or NGO Monitor, who taken it on themselves to ask tough questions to their respective governments on this issue,” Navon said.
“Israel and NGOs who work on this issue have to be proactive and reach out to these governments to make them see that some of their taxpayer money is going to antisemitic causes and to organizations that use military violence against civilians,” he added.
Steinberg agreed, saying, “You have to confront them with the facts. You have to make it absolutely clear through evidence and investigation and ask those tough questions. That is the best strategy for dealing with this problem.”