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NGO Monitor: Sucking the life out of Civil society

By       Message Bahija Reghai     Permalink
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For some, the problem with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international and humanitarian law is that it sets the same international standard for all.Powerful states prefer to beexempt from these provisions which were intended to create a more level playing field between the powerful and the weak. The powerful resist the dictates of higher moral and legal codes and use their power in various ways to act with impunity and above the law.

When confronted with legitimate criticism of its policies and actions based on universal international standards and principles, Israel chose to maintain its policies and launch a war against all organizations that expose the violations ignore the message, kill the messenger. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has instructed his officials to seek ways to change the laws that he finds constricting.The Israeli choice endangers civil society as a whole and returns us to the law of "might is right.' In this, Israel has many little helpers. Beside the Reut Institute and the Israel Project, watchdog groups, "monitor" and "watch" human rights organizations and academia, "report" on the media and claim that justifiable criticism of Israel policies "de-legitimizes' the state of Israel and is therefore antisemitic.

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The Canadian government has relied on some of these groups, in particular the self-appointed international regulator called NGO Monitor (NGOM), as sources of information in order to sever long-term working partnerships with respected Canadian and international organizations. Some information regarding NGOM and one of its parent organizations may aid in understanding their impact on our political establishment, and why Canadians should care.

NGOM is the brainchild of the top brass of two Israeli organizations which have been presenting Israel's case, the Jerusalem Center for Political Affairs (JCPA) and B'nai Brith. It was formed because the vast array of already existing pro-Israel organizations seemed unable to contain the worldwide criticism of Israeli extremist policies. Organizations that had no partisan stake in the Palestine/Israel conflict were hard to discredit and since they based their criticism on human rights and international law, they were deemed dangerous.

As JCPA put it, "[T]he challenges that Israel faces today are not only military. They extend to the United Nations, the mass media, foreign universities, and non-governmental organizations." The United Nations itself was covered by UN Watch, but NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other well-respected human rights organizations were producing damning reports that needed to be neutralized. And so NGOM was created as a JCPA project, another spoke in the well-oiled Hasbara spin machine which, along with JCPA, NGOM, and UN Watch, includes various other "think tanks" that cross-pollinate both in terms of information, researchers and/or board members.

The machine's success is achieved through relations with an extensive network of media policy makers and academics, and its focus on two central policy objectives: making sure that Middle East policy remains favorable to Israel and that Arab and Muslim communities, both in Western democracies and in Arab and Muslim states, remain on the fringe, at once powerless and feared as an evil threat to Western values. Wildly negative, piggy-backing commentaries and reports whip up anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia to draw out support for the ultimate insider, Israel.

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"Who's Who at the Jerusalem Center[JCPA]" includes a long list of "Israel's experts", almost half of them military brass with strong connections to the right-wing Israeli government, alongside academics and politicians who push the Israeli version of facts from different angles.

Also on the list are the names of eight Canadians, including Liberal MP Irwin Cotler (Cotler is also on the Advisory board of the JCPA Global Law Forum and a board member of UN Watch) and Irving Abella, two prominent members of the Canadian political, judicial and academic elites. Do they endorse - contrary to Canadian policy which "does not recognize Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem" - the political positions of the JCPA as it undertakes to "continue its work to preserve Israel's control of its capital and oppose efforts which seek to divide Jerusalem"?

Do they agree with the JCPA that the Israeli settlements are not illegal? Except for Israel and possibly one or two South Pacific islands, all states consider settlements a violation of international law defined by the "Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War". In 2004, the International Court of Justice confirmed this in an advisory opinion. More recently, Hillary Clinton insisted that the US not consider the settlements "legitimate", and that this has been, and will continue to be, the US government's policy for the years to come.

American-born Dore Gold is the main JCPA voice. He contends that one should not use the phrase "occupied Palestinian territories" because it denies any Israeli claim to the land. He also insists that Israel's interests take primacy. A former Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) fellow, he represented Israel at the UN and served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He was also on the American Enterprise Institute's payroll as a scholar. As president of the JCPA and publisher of NGOM, Gold's work is the continuation of his involvement with neo-cons Netanyahu and Sharon in that he continues to do the bidding of the Israeli extremist parties.

British-born Gerald M. Steinberg, also a JCPA board member, is a former Research Fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT. His work flows seamlessly from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Security Council, and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office (The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism) to the NGOM. He has been on the attack for years, including through the JCPA, and NGOM gives him a privileged podium from where he is able to accelerate the war against respected human rights organizations. In so doing, he benefits from the clout that JCPA and NGOM international board members enjoy.

Steinberg's militancy is all about keeping Israel outside the reach of international law, and silencing critics as Israel evades its legal responsibilities as an occupier. Israel's diktat trumps all, even the law.

Why should Canadians care? Undue access to influential decision-makers by Israeli ultra-nationalists such as Steinberg has resulted in the Canadian government taking ideological decisions. These include withdrawing funds from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)--offering humanitarian relief; severing long-term satisfactory working relationships with certain Canadian NGOs - not on the basis of the quality of their work, but for the irrelevant and self-defeating proposition that standing up for Canadian values of fairness and justice means being anti-Israel; and stacking boards of Canadian institutions with pro-Israel individuals whose task is to unduly import Middle East politics, as happened in the case of Rights and Democracy (R&D).

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It is worth noting that the current Rights and Democracy chair,Aurel Braun,is an ally of, and sits on a least one board, and another with NGOM's Steinberg a well-known pro-Israel propagandist, Daniel Pipes (Campus Watch). Disregarding R&D's twenty-year history of supporting human rights and democracy in countries like Burma, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Braun's dogged and unapologetic approach was clearly about protecting Israel, and blocking any attempt at providing support for human rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territory.

How does NGOM fulfil its objective "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 anti-Israel agendas"?

It targets:

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Bahija Reghai is a Canadian Human Rights activist and a former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab relations(NCCAR).

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NGO Monitor: Sucking the life out of Civil society