They Say/We Say: "An Israeli organization that accepts foreign government funding is an agent of that government and should be named and shamed as such."

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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They Say, We Say: Why should we be worried about Israeli democracy?

They Say:

An Israeli organization that accepts foreign government funding is an agent of that government and should be named and shamed as such – especially when these organizations are actively working against Israel’s interests, and especially when they are doing it abroad. The government of Israel is right to do whatever it can to silence such groups.

We Say:The NGOs targeted and demonized under Israel’s 2016 NGO law are not agents of foreign governments. They are Israeli-founded and Israeli-run organizations, many of which have existed for decades. They have with well-established agendas and programs defined by their own missions and goals, not by the interests of their foreign donors.

The notion that accepting foreign government funding transforms these Israeli-founded, Israeli-led, Israeli-staffed NGOs into agents of a foreign government’s agenda is absurd. It is akin to suggesting that if, hypothetically, France were to give funding to Planned Parenthood to carry on with its decades-old mission, Planned Parenthood would suddenly become an agent of the EU (and be forced to register as such under FARA). Israel’s Navy receives submarines from the government of Germany. This does not make Israeli officers – or the IDF – an agent of Germany. Equally absurd is arguing that Peace Now – established in 1978 by a group of 348 Israeli reserve officers and soldiers, and which has been challenging Israel’s settlement enterprise ever since – serves interests that are not genuinely Israeli but rather are implanted by foreign governments.

The irony about trying to portray these groups as “foreign agents” is that Jews around the world have throughout history been at the forefront of defending core values like human rights and democracy. The even greater irony is that for decades, Israelis from across the political spectrum, including the right wing, have pointed to Israel’s vibrant civil society as proof that Israel is a healthy democracy.

As for the actions and positions of these targeted groups, make no mistake: These Israeli organizations represent and serve Israel’s true interests, both at home and abroad. Israeli human rights organizations serve as watchdogs for the benefit of Israeli society. Israeli civil rights groups are guardians of Israeli democracy. Israeli peace organizations advance peace for the benefit of Israel. The fact that these goals do not correspond with a given Israeli government’s agenda does not mean that these NGOs are illegitimate. Like any healthy democracy, Israel needs strong civil society groups that advance human rights, civil rights, peace and equality, particularly at times of heightened terrorism and threat, when such important values don’t enjoy the kind of popular backing that they deserve.