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The NGO ‘halo effect’ snares Senator Warren

For many years, the powerful realm of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been infiltrated by bad actors who exploit the image of altruism to get big donations and promote agendas of hate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Laney College in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr via Wikimedia Commos.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Laney College in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr via Wikimedia Commos.
Gerald M. Steinberg
Gerald M. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and a professor of politics at Bar-Ilan University.

For many years, the powerful realm of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has been infiltrated by bad actors who exploit the image of altruism to get big donations and promote agendas of hate.

While the evidence of manipulation and corruption is readily found, many politicians, journalists and academics continue to automatically give organizations claiming to support moral principles—peace, democracy, human rights, free speech etc.—a stamp of approval and are eager to be featured on their platforms. This “halo effect” surrounds and protects the powerful political NGO industry from scrutiny. In contrast to the governmental and business sectors, these organizations have no frameworks for oversight, checks and balances, or independent oversight.

However, occasionally this NGO halo effect gets punctured, the carefully manicured images exposed as frauds and the immoral reality becoming visible, causing embarrassment and worse for all involved.

Human Rights Watch, a mega-NGO, maintained a façade of credibility despite a long history of false claims and obsessive condemnations targeting Israel. Top officials, aided by a well-paid public relations staff, carefully polish HRW’s reputation and attack critics. (I am a frequent target.) Recently, however, evidence has emerged of secret funding from Qatar. Also, Danielle Haas, who spent 13 years as a senior editor at the NGO, confirmed and provided details exposing HRW’s “research” and deeply embedded antisemitism. As the halo disappears, everyone associated with this organization, including staff members, donors and board members, is tainted.  

In another example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was advertised as a keynote speaker for an online “Palestine Digital Activist Forum,” organized by a NGO by the name of 7amleh (pronounced Hamleh, meaning “campaign” in Arabic), that claims to “empower and enrich Palestinian digital activity.”

A few days before the event, her office issued a terse statement announcing that she had decided not to participate, citing “a large volume of claims about individuals associated with the event” and their inability to “sift through it all.”  

The “claims about individuals” that led to Warren’s belated and abrupt turnaround were statements from many 7amleh officials supporting the Hamas Oct. 7 atrocities. In addition, she was confronted with the evidence highlighting the NGO’s cooperation with other NGOs linked to designated terror organizations—particularly the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Under the façade of free speech and opposing “the silencing of Palestinian voices,” 7amleh is part of the Hamas cheering section. Not surprisingly, they cooperate closely with HRW in attacking social media platforms—specifically, Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta—with false claims of unjustifiably deleting posts that are merely “critical of Israel.”

For anyone who goes beyond the organization’s artificial halo, the blatant declarations of support for the atrocities of Oct. 7 and other deeply troubling rhetoric are not hard to find. For example, on Oct. 7, board member Neveen Abu Rahmoun posted (in Arabic) on Facebook, “The Palestinian resistance is imposing a new stage since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa flood operation [Hamas’ name for the massacre] by resistance fighters infiltrating into numerous Israeli neighborhoods in the settlements.”  She added, “The message of the resistance is clear, it has started and it shall escalate and shall impose a new reality.”

Similarly, 7amleh “monitoring and documentation officer” Ahmad Qadi celebrated terror attacks on Jerusalem synagogues in both 2023 and 2015. After five Israelis were murdered in the 2015 assault, Qadi posted, also in Arabic, “I have been wishing for pictures like these for a while, and I still wonder – of what these men are made of?! #deeply_exciting.”

This open-source information has been available for months, which means that when Warren and her staff accepted the invitation to participate, either they did not bother to check, or did and didn’t see a problem. But as the evidence became increasingly visible and the criticism increased, they realized that linking the senator’s name and prestige to this hate-supporting NGO was a political liability. (NGO Monitor, the independent institute that I founded and head, is the main source for this information.) 

Also illustrating the NGO halo effect, 7amleh receives large donations from the governments of Switzerland, Norway, and Germany, as well as the United Nations and George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. 

Warren does not come out of this incident looking good—the failure to vet the invitation is a liability, while the anti-Israel activists will criticize her for backing out. It is also a warning to other politicians, as well as journalists and academics, on the dangers of automatically embracing NGO propagandists, disguised as noble warriors for justice.

Originally published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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