Foreign-Funded NGOs, Political Power, and Democratic Legitimacy

(Lawfare Institute-Brookings) Gerald Steinberg - Twenty years ago, when I began to research the political power of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those active in the realms of human rights and international law, there was essentially no critical analysis of these groups. The academic discussion largely accepted NGOs' self-definition as politically neutral promoters of liberal democratic norms. But the reality of NGO political power is quite different. When local political NGOs get significant funds from foreign governments, they are readily labeled as representing the particular interests and perspectives of outsiders. In the Israeli case, out of over 200 active NGOs with human rights and international humanitarian law agendas, 39 from a very narrow part of the political spectrum have received $150 million over the past five years - 2/3 of it from the EU and Western European governments. All 39 stridently oppose the government's policies regarding the West Bank, and a number promote allegations of "war crimes" and apartheid. In the Israeli case, external government funding empowers a few selected actors playing very visible roles on highly polarized issues to gain a distinct advantage over others in the marketplace of ideas. Special-interest NGOs with large budgets lobby politicians, buy extensive media coverage, hold events, and flood the courts with political cases, generating more media attention for their cause. This imbalance is amplified by the extensive use of foreign government funds in seeking to influence Israeli institutions and public opinion from outside the country. The writer is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and founder-president of NGO Monitor.

2018-06-26 00:00:00

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