February 02, 2010
To ACRI, Bimkom, B’Tselem, Gisha, PCATI, Yesh Din, HaMoked, PHR-I, Rabbis for Human Rights, and New Israel Fund (NIF):
The recent attacks directed against NGO Monitor’s detailed research represent a dangerous attempt to prevent free speech and informed public debate on the political role of some NGOs. In particular, in your February 1, 2010 letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, you tendentiously referred to NGO Monitor as an “extreme group” that “unleashed an unrestrained and inflammatory [attack],” and implied that we are the “rotten fruits” of Israeli democracy; B’Tselem’s US representative, Mitchell Plitnick, labeled us “extremists” and “right wing”; and, a few months ago, an NIF employee posted an indecent graphic on his blog (which was later removed) to illustrate his opinion of NGO Monitor’s publications.
These characterizations are inconsistent with claims to uphold the mantle of human rights and democracy in Israel. Contrary to the implications of your letter, NGO Monitor has never contested the right of civil society organizations to exist or to criticize. And if your rhetoric about upholding free speech in Israel were matched by your policies, you would uphold our right as an independent research organization, and the rights of NGOs that do not share your political views, to do the same.
The critical debate surrounding foreign government funding for NGOs that undertake political advocacy in Israel is legitimate, and all sides have the right to be heard. The concerns about your political activities and their relationship to campaigns delegitimizing and demonizing Israel are valid. Criticism is not repression.
These latest attacks are consistent with your continuing refusal to engage NGO Monitor and other significant critics in meaningful dialogue. Instead, you have repeatedly avoided debate. Most recently, you were provided the opportunity for an open platform at a Knesset conference on European government funding for political NGOs, but chose instead to boycott and question the legitimacy of this forum.
NGO Monitor remains committed to engaging with you in public debate on the role of political NGOs in Israeli society and in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is time to move beyond counter-productive name-calling and attempts to silence critics.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg and the NGO Monitor staff