Israel calls on EU to end funding to pro-boycott groups
By TIA GOLDENBERG, Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel called on the European Union on Friday to halt funding to more than a dozen European and Palestinian non-governmental organizations that it says 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 says 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 of 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 say the tactics are a nonviolent way to promote the Palestinian cause. Israel says 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.
“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.”
EU officials said the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, received the report from Israel along with a letter requesting a reply and that it’s now under consideration. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to talk to the media.
Earlier, an EU statement said the bloc was “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,” it said.
Israel said the NGOs received a total of 5 million euros ($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, which received more than 1.7 million euros ($2 million) in 2016 and claiming the group had links to Palestinian militant groups.
The U.S. 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.
NPA’s chief Henriette Killi Westhrin said the U.S. government interprets the participation of individuals on their list of banned nationals or groups “in trainings or meetings on human rights and democracy as material support.”
“We do not agree with this interpretation, but accepted the settlement to avoid an even more costly judicial process,” it said.
The U.S., along with the EU, considers Hamas, a group that has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks, as a terrorist organization.
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 U.S. 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.