Illegal NGO Lobbying Undermines Israel

With many interests and issues competing for American attention, dollars and sympathy, just who are behind these various causes has become more important than ever in an age of economic woes and a changing political landscape. A law on the books for more than seven decades meant to safeguard America from those with hidden foreign agendas is apparently not being actively enforced, opening the door to American support for positions inimical to our best interests and those of our allies.

More after the jump.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is an important, but little known federal law requiring agents who represent the interests of foreign countries to be publicly identified as such. The Act was passed in 1938 in response to German propaganda before World War II.  The law is in essence a disclosure statute to insure that the American public and its lawmakers know the source behind information used to “lobby” and sway public opinion, policy, and laws. FARA  mandates that persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity make periodic extensive public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, including financial activities, the names and dates of each individual person they lobby in any branch of government, any efforts beyond lobbying including setting up informational booths in public places, handing out tourism flyers regarding to entice travel to the foreign country, and advertising. The Department of Justice’s FARA Registration Unit (part of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section) is responsible for administering and enforcing the Act. There are criminal and civil penalties for violating the Act; and it is a continuing offense not to file a registration statement.

Today, thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) lobby American officials each year. Many concentrate on the politically volatile and contentious Middle East. But due to mainstream media malfeasance, general apathy and/or ignorance, powerful political NGOs receive and use vast Arab, European Union and European governmental funding right under the public’s noses, especially to advance agendas within America that threaten one of our key allies: Israel.  These forces operate in direct opposition to Israeli policies to manipulate and undermine its security on issues such as borders, “settlements,” military cooperation and armaments. They are nefariously and surreptitiously meddling in Israel’s internal matters like no place else on the planet. They are not apolitical, and use faulty “international law” arguments against Israel’s rights.

Moreover, many of these groups are skirting FARA and need to be exposed. Two NGOs that are currently under investigation by DOJ for potential violations of failing to register with FARA are Peace Now and B’Tselem.  The Israeli Peace Now movement, Shalom Achshav, was established in 1978. According to their website, Peace Now is perhaps best known for mobilizing mass demonstrations, and conducting comprehensive monitoring of Israeli “settlement activity” in Judea and Samaria (a k a. the West Bank).  In 1981, it established “Americans for Peace Now,” and has worked feverishly “to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict” through “the creation of a viable Palestinian state.”  

APN, which considers itself a leading voice of American Jews, claims that it is “a non-partisan organization with a non-partisan mission.” Yet APN alleges that “settlements” in the West Bank represent a security liability for Israel and an obstacle to future peace efforts. Peace Now has made aggressive claims in the media that large portions of “settlements” are built on “privately owned Palestinian lands.” In 2008, Peace Now was convicted in Israel of libel for making false claims on this subject and was ordered to apologize in Israeli newspapers.  Even though many of its members and events are in Israel, Peace Now is not a registered legal entity in Israel, however the government of Norway has given it millions of kroners since 2001, including approximately 1.35 million kroners ($230,000) in 2009.  

B’Tselem, “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” was established in 1989. According to their website, b’Tselem “endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, combat the phenomenon of denial prevalent among the Israeli public, and help create a human rights culture in Israel.”  This “Israeli human rights organization” claims that it is independent and funded by contributions from foundations in Europe and North America that support human rights activity worldwide, and by private individuals in Israel and abroad. B’Tselem’s Washington office has recently lobbied robustly in support of the blood-libelous Goldstone Report while using donations from European taxpayers and from the New Israel Fund.

While Arab, European governments and the European Union are obsessively focused on demeaning democratic Israel through the American branches or subsidiaries of various NGOs — which they have a free-speech right to do in this country — they are covertly spending millions of Euros, pounds, krona or dinars to do so in potential violation of American law.   These funds are fungible, freeing up money given to theses NGOs outside the U.S. to support their activities and lobbying in the U.S.

Historically, there have been few reported enforcement actions by DOJ under FARA.  Research suggests that DOJ attempts to work out issues without legal action as it has found that most violations of this law are unintentional. But is this still the case, and especially where Israel is targeted?  The bottom line is that these NGOs should not be permitted to deceive the American public or U.S. officials by hiding who really controls and funds them — all while their “parent” organizations receive funds from foreign sources and governments. No such loopholes should be permitted. Free speech clearly should be respected, but FARA is designed as a full disclosure instrument so that the American public and our officials can know with whom we are really dealing.  Just as they have a right to lobby and influence, we the public and our officials need to know if they are in reality a front for a foreign agent or principal.

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Comments

  1. laborman says

    The writer may be correct in his limited examples.  But he only points out 2 organizations in the pro-democracy, pro-peace camp.  Clearly there must be groups with questionable funding that staunchly oppose peace efforts. And of course there are widely varying views among Israeli and American Jews as to who is really “undermining” Israel’s future.  Perhaps the writer should take aim at the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision.  As a result, we do not know the source of vast amounts of money, foreign or domestic, which influenced the 2010 U.S. mid-term elections.  And those election results may yet impact the future of U.S. policy towards Israel.

    • Lee S. Bender says

      Laborman is missing the point- which is that organizations that lobby the govt and obtain their funding from foreign governments are required by federal law to disclose this vital information so we know with whom we are dealing. The First Amendment protects their speech, but not without the restrictions imposed herein.  Some organizations, such as Americans for Peace Now and B’tselem are gaining their funding from foreign governments- basic research has revealed this; in fact there may be others too, but I have not had the time to conduct an exhaustive investigation.  I am still waiting for the Dept of Justice to complete their investigation based on my inquiries of these two organizations- which they pledged to do. Will certainly keep you all informed if a response is received.

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