European Union officials have defended the support they provide to Israeli leftist organizations, including Peace Now, the Four Mothers, and MK Roman Bronfman’s Impact project.

MKs on the right have criticized Europe’s intervention in Israeli politics following an investigation by Ma’ariv journalist Yoav Yitzhak that revealed that the European Union provides hundreds of thousands of euros a year to Israeli non-profit organizations affiliated with the Left.

“The European Union has always held a policy of supporting non-governmental organizations that work for peace, democracy, and human rights in the civil societies around the Mediterranean,” an EU official told The Jerusalem Post. “The Israeli government is fully aware of this funding and has never complained about it. The EU has never provided financial support for political parties,” he stressed.

Yitzhak cited an EU document which he said showed that officials decided to support Impact, a project intended to teach leadership to Russian immigrants, because they hoped it could help tilt the Russian immigrant electorate from the right to the left.

Bronfman (Democratic Choice) confirmed that the EU gave Impact 400,000 euros ($320,000) in December 2000, but denied that the organization is political and said its objectives are pure.

According to Yitzhak, as part of its People to People Program, the EU also approved in its September 9, 1999 meeting 400,000 euros for Peace Now and another 250,000 euros for the Four Mothers movement, which lobbied for the IDF to withdraw from Lebanon.

The EU official did not deny the funding for such organizations, but said it also supports groups “that work in religious and rightist environments.”

“We don’t look at the political complexion of the people who apply to us,” the official said. “We look at the project and if it meets our criteria, it is a candidate for our support.” However, he said, “We don’t support projects under the EU People to People program that do not support the peace process.”

Asked to provide an example of a rightist organization the EU supports, the official cited Machon Mifne, an organization that teaches democracy to haredim, run by Tzvia Greenfield, a well-known peace activist in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.

MK Michael Kleiner (Herut) called upon Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to recall Israel’s ambassador to the EU and close its east Jerusalem office to the Palestinian Authority, calling its funding for the left “disgusting.”

Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin called upon law enforcement authorities to open an investigation into the funding, while National Religious Party faction chairman Shaul Yahalom submitted a motion to the Knesset agenda for discussion.

“The biased intervention of foreign nations in the democratic processes of Israel is unprecedented and shameful,” Yahalom said.

During the Knesset debate on the issue, Benny Elon (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu) slammed Israeli organizations he said are acting as “agents for the political agenda of foreign countries.”

Elon read out Peace Now’s program from May 1998 through April 1999 sent to the EU explaining its use of the funds. According to the document Elon presented, the money was spent on advertising for its activities, including distribution of 12,000 posters reading “Bring Back Peace,” “Netanyahu is killing Peace,” and “Netanyahu must go.”

“The EU is paying for this?” Elon asked, and urged MKs to sign a protest letter to the EU calling on it to stop interfering in Israel’s internal political affairs.

Mossy Raz (Meretz) said that Peace Now, which he headed for six years, has “never hidden its funding sources, as opposed to groups on the Right.” He said he did not understand what was so objectionable about the EU helping support ad campaigns for the group. Moreover, he said the information published by Ma’ariv was also in the media two years ago.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on June 27, 2001