What's an NGO (a non-governmental organisation)? As the name evidences, it is an organisation that doesn't belong to a government even though it may be funded by one. This sort of body is neither a regular for-profit entity even though if may be further funded by foundations, businesses and private persons. At first glance, it is all very well but then the reality on the ground is somewhat more complex when NGOs act as agents of foreign countries: the entities are formed with the intention of interfering in the politics of sovereign states.
By any means necessary – Jean Paul Sartre
NGOs enjoyed a good status, till the end of the 1990's, but as they became more aggressive – i.e. as they began to reveal the opportunity they posed and the agenda of theirs funders – they called the attention of political leaders who, understandably so, began to act against them. Are those leaders right or wrong?
We have been told that non-governmental bodies belong to an aggregate that express the will and the interests of citizens - in other words, they form the Civil Society; however, this is not so when institutions express and work to impose the will and interests of foreign countries. When this occurs, NGOs do not act as members of a civil society but as agents whose sole existential purpose is to bypass the sovereignty of other countries.
The Russian Case
Russia passed a law, in 2012, forcing organisations considered as politically active (with foreign funds) to register as 'foreign agents'. The bill was intended to increase transparency and accountability of NGOs; but a campaign of criticism was immediately set up accusing the Russian government of cracking down on civil society.
Setting any personal opinion on Russian politics apart, one must admit that many NGOs in Russia were going beyond the scope of their duties (e.g. educate, provide legal assistance and publish reports) to engage in political activity (e.g. producing propaganda leaflets, organising anti-government campaigns and protests) that served foreign interests, like: try to establish liberal democracy, to push for Gay Rights legislation, to sit a government of preference, to destabilise dissident countries, and unseat disagreeing leaders.
Why should Russia accept foreign interests to change its political culture and historical traditions? Does that attempted change reflect the will and interests of the Russian people, as a whole, or the will and interests of a vast minority? Democracy implies the will of the majority; therefore, it doesn't make any democratic sense to impose the will of a minority upon a majority. Having said this, yes, Russia did well to carry out a pre-emptive measure against NGOs.
The Israeli Case
Israel wishes to pass a bill that intends to require Israeli NGOs (that receive more than half of its funds from foreign states) to disclose their sources of funding and declare themselves as foreign agents. This bill wasn't born out of thin air; this piece of legislation was born out of evidence that foreign countries have been paying NGOs, in Israel, to delegitimise the Jewish State, the Israeli Defence Forces and to threaten Israel's national security.
A report produced by Im Tirtzu shows that out of 20 NGOs, 13 (that include B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence) are funded by foreign entities – like the New Israel Fund (known for running anti-Israel campaigns in the international forum and for influencing American politics), the EU and others – to act as foreign agents to push Israel into making more territorial concessions, to demonise Israel, to cause the Jewish State to be boycotted, divested and suffer sanctions; to demonise religious Jews, to bring down the present right wing government, to have innocent Arab people murdered by the Palestinian authority (if they so much think of selling land to Jews), and perhaps sponsor tensions between Arabs and Jews (to exert pressure on Israel). In light of this, the State of Israel does very well to act against these foreign agents.
There is one country that has recently confessed its use of NGOs as foreign policy instruments. This country's foreign office was so eager to express its discontentment towards Israel's new bill, that it failed to think of the ramifications of such confession: African, Latin-American and Asian countries should perhaps start following very closely the activities of non-governmental bodies operating in their territory, and concatenate their operations with their national political conjuncture.
But what country made such puzzling public confession?
"Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the Minister, and noted the US government’s concerns on the matter." - source
"He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard." - idem
If we concatenate this patronising advice to the Obama's Administration's attempt to unseat PM Netanyahu through the V15 NGO (or Darkenu, as they call themselves nowadays after having resoundingly failed last year); we have to ask whether the US Government hasn't missed an opportunity to silence.
In any case, it's becoming clearer the need to control the steps of these NGOs lest they go from being agents to foreign agencies in sovereign states.
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]