If a private U.S. group receives funding from foreign individuals or foreign governments to sway U.S. government policies or actions, it must register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, disclose how much money it gets from sources outside America's borders, and identify the donors. The disclosure law has been on the books for many years and it has become an accepted way of letting the public know who bankrolls such lobbying.
However, when Israel raises the prospect that it might emulate this U.S. exercise in democratic transparency, the Washington Post goes ballistic and raises the specter of Israel engaging in McCarthyism. The Post's target is a move in the Knesset to require official foreign-funding disclosure by self-appointed Israeli human-rights groups and other leftists organizations whose agenda is to wage political warfare against the Jewish state, to delegitimize its army, and to promote anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions.
A Jan. 20 article by Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg, splashed atop the foreign-news section, is not content to give a fair account of ongoing debate about this issue in Israel, but instead provides a platform for foreign-funded "human rights" groups to portray themselves as victims of "McCarthyism." To give extra weight to his slander, Greenberg injects the opprobrium of "McCarthyism" into his piece not once, but twice. ("Israeli human rights groups decry effort to probe funding" page A8).
The general flavor of Greenberg's biased dispatch can be gathered from his second paragraph -- "Human rights advocates say they are working in an increasingly hostile public climate -- particularly since the Gaza war two years ago, which brought allegations of Israeli war crimes -- and they warn that free speech and the right to dissent are being challenged."
This is, of course, utter nonsense. There is more free speech and dissent in Israel than anywhere else in the Middle East -- by a country mile. Free expression is not under challenge in Israel. What is being challenged is the surreptitious inflow of massive amounts of money from foreign sources, including European governments and Arab regimes, into the coffers of these local anti-Israel groups. Some lawmakers finally see a need not to curb or restrain such groups in any way, but simply require them to report properly and transparently exactly where they get their foreign money from.
For their part, these groups claim that they already provide funding sources on their websites. But such disclosures are often limited, hard to dissect and analyze, and too opaque to connect the dots. Some private researchers have been able to work up a few estimates. But the current non-system is clearly inadequate and the amounts of foreign money flowing into Israel to stoke anti-Israel campaigns is far from negligible. By some estimates, it amounts to well over $100 million a year.
Greenberg, however, is not interested in presenting a fair-minded, balanced report about the lively controversy this issue has generated in Israel. He gives the last word in his piece to a petition circulated by some academics, artists and writers, who declare that "when elected officials begin investigating citizens, it spells the end of democracy." That's the outrageous theme of Greenberg's slanderous piece.
Conspicuously missing from his story is a sharp rebuttal of such preposterous claims by Ron Dermer, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who singled out the U.S. way of meeting foreign intervention in domestic affairs with required registration of foreign agents and full disclosure of funding from abroad..
Said Dermer: "It's hard to imagine any democratic country accepting foreign governments intervening in domestic affairs by funding domestic groups not merely in criticism of a particular government's policy but also attacking the very foundations of the state. What would the U.S. do if the Iranian government was funding American non-governmental organizations pressing for withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Middle East?"
Nor is there any mention by Greenberg of a study by an Israeli Zionist group that traced money from the European Union, the World Bank, European governments, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and OPEC to a Palestinian group known as the Welfare Association that is based in Ramallah, but also operates throughout Israel. Such foreign intervention is ongoing in Israel in a big way.
While Greenberg applauds the work of "human rights" groups in Israel -- "many document abuse and violation of Palestinian rights by Israeli security forces and settlers" -- he fails to mention that Human Rights Watch issued more critical reports in 2010 about Israel than about Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. The same Human Rights Watch that disgraced itself by the personal lobbying of its Mideast agents during a trip to Saudi Arabia to secure more financial support from Saudi donors. As exhibit A of their justified claim to Saudi support, they didn't hesitate to point out to potential Saudi donors HRW's persistent attacks on Israel.
Stripped of all the sharp rhetorical blasts emanating from "human rights" groups, what is at issue here is the public's right to know -- precisely and reliably -- how much foreign money flows into Israel to fund groups hostile to the Jewish state.
There's more than something fishy going on and real, comprehensive transparency is way overdue.
As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously remarked: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." For its part, the Washington Post, however, carves out a big exception to the Brandeis maxim in the case of self-described "human rights" groups.