Home > Israeli Neoconservatism, Suppression of Dissent > Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor, ctd. — Dimming the “halo effect”

Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor, ctd. — Dimming the “halo effect”


Disappointed with attendance and media coverage of the December 1 2009 Knesset NGO suppression conference, NGO Monitor and its allies have shifted their message.The new line is: “We have been silenced by “McCarthyism.”  Remember, this comes from the leaders of a government-backed campaign targeting a minority. Undoubtedly, these are the rightful heirs of the Dispossessed Cossack of Jewish tradition.

One of NGO Monitor’s specialties is the coining of pseudo-academic terminology. In addition to “lawfare“,  they have given us the “halo effect” — an aura of virtue that protects NGOs from critical examination of their work. Indeed, Naftali Balanson, NGO Monitor’s Managing Editor (note no bio on the staff roster,) attributes his victimization by vicious, McCarthyite, human rights activists to frustration at the dimming of their “halo.”

Fortuitously,  a colleague of Balanson’s has provided us with an opportunity to take a crack at NGO Monitor’s very own “halo effect” — the notion that because it is headed by a senior political scientist, Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, it recruits only the best researchers and conforms to the most rigorous of academic standards.

As we reported earlier, NGO Monitor’s partner in the latest phase of the campaign to suppress Israeli human rights groups is the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), chaired by Israel Harel, a founder of the fundamentalist Gush Emunim settler movement. Adi Arbel is an IZS staff member and he is the author of a number of publications on the organization’s Hebrew website (this is one example.) On December 3 2009, Arbel gave an interview (Hebrew) to Arutz Sheva, a settler news service, on the Knesset conference and the report acc presented there. Arutz Sheva identified him as a “researcher at IZS.”

Arbel also has a regular column in “Yoman” (diary) the Friday political supplement of Makor Rishon, a right-wing newspaper. Arbel regularly uses the column to bash his perceived ideological adversaries. Much of this Friday’s (December 4 2009) column is devoted to the allegations of the Knesset conference, with a special focus on the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Here’s a translation of the first section

The right to be a Jew

Next Friday, the first Israeli ‘human rights march’ will be held in Tel-Aviv. The march is organized by ACRI in cooperation with tens of other organizations. When the agendas of these human rights organizations is examined, one learns that they are guided by a post-Zionist agenda, aimed at undermining the Jewish character of the State of Israel. The chance that these organizations’ voices will be heard on the violation of the human right of Jews (settlers, for example) to realize realize their property rights [sic] (private [property] paid for in full), is similar to the chance that Ahmedinajad will institute observance of Holocaust Day throughout Iran.

NGO Monitor has repeatedly and emphatically argued that the character, political and otherwise, of a researcher should be taken into account when examining the credibility of his organization’s publications. In its critique of Human Rights Watch, for example, a statement made in the 1970’s by one of the organization’s staffers, is cited as evidence for bias. If we wanted to use this argument to trash their latest report, Arbel would have provided us with ample resources. We would not even have to deconstruct the “aimed at undermining the Jewish nature” assertion, because his Iran-Holocaust analogy would no doubt suffice.

We don’t need to stoop to this level of argumentation, however, in order to expose the quality and integrity of the “research” conducted by Steinberg’s operation. A quick look at Arbel’s “examination” of ACRI’s “agenda” will do.

Let’s forgive Arbel for neglecting to note ACRI’s advocacy on behalf of the “human rights of Jews,” including, among many other examples, its fight for free dental care for all Israeli children and its criticism of the Housing Ministry for failures in the provision of housing in the “rocket stricken south.” After all, he probably thinks these “don’t count” because Palestinian citizens of Israel would also benefit from them.

We can then move on to the assertion underpinning Arbel’s entire argument: ACRI’s failure to cry out on behalf of settler property rights. A close observer of the human rights situation in the West Bank might could easily be confused, thinking that Arbel is referring to the systematic theft of private Palestinian land by Israeli settlers. No, Arbel is asking why ACRI has not jumped to defend settler homeowner’s property rights violated by Netanyahu’s new “settlement freeze.”

Many of Arbel’s ideological allies tend to have a cynical and utilitarian view of democracy, remembering its existence only when it serves their interests. Therefore, the ACRI’s record of defending the rights of settlers and extreme right-wing fundamentalists is inconvenient, to say the least. This might explain why Arbel neglects to mention, for example, ACRI’s Skokie-like defense of Kahanists’ right to march in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm or their advocacy on behalf of due process rights for violent settlers. ACRI’s consistency on these issues provides any reasonable observer with the certainty that if indeed the “freeze,” announced only last week, violates the rights of any human beings, they will speak out against it.

To the few that have been closely following the track-record of Steinberg and his affiliates, this kind of intellectual dishonesty comes as no surprise. What is astonishing is the careless sloppiness of a senior researcher on the team on the very same week that they are fighting to preserve their facade of integrity. This can only be interpreted as hubris, the result of years of operating without any oversight whatsoever.

The times are changing, however. Steinberg’s government-NGO coalition has overplayed its hand. The shift from defamation to outright suppression through legislative measures has galvanized many Israeli citizens into action. Israeli free speech absolutists, like myself, no longer consider this phenomenon just an unpleasant price one has to pay for democracy.

Since the the publication of my November 30 2009 Haaretz op-ed, I have been contacted by Israelis and Jewish-Americans, from all walks of life, asking to volunteer their time. Many have also e-mailed highly revealing documentation, which we will publish here after verification. From now on, every journalist or politician lobbied by the Israeli neoconservative network will have at his disposal the materials necessary to put their reports and policy reccomendations in the appropiate context — that of a partisan suppression operation.

In order to help launch this collaborative research effort, we are happy to announce the first (of many) Gerald Steinberg essay competitions. Readers of Hebrew have at their disposal an archive of columns by Adi Arbel, the IZS researcher who was so helpful with this post. English readers have the entire internet at their disposal.

The author of the best essay exposing instances of intellectual dishonesty or factual omissions by the Israeli neoconservative network, will receive a copy of Max Blumenthal‘s new book, Republican Gomorrah.

Submissions (no more than 1500 words in English) should be sent to ngo.monitor.monitor@gmail.com by December 20.

  1. yehoshua rosin
    December 6, 2009 at 23:49

    ngo monitor is the ,,robed cossack” (hacossack hanigsal)claiming to be harrassed by mccarthait left,

  2. rakiah
    December 7, 2009 at 21:08

    I got into a loonnng argument about NGO Monitor’s nefarious actions and the lovely Gerald Steinberg with my friend who is also a professor in the Poli-Sci Department at Bar Ilan University.

    Now he told me that today he spoke with Steinberg and NGO Monitor apparently is: “looking at ALL finding by the Israeli government to NGOS of all political stripes. That hasn’t been released yet since they are still getting the info on that but it will be published when they have a complete report.”

    Also, he says: “he isn’t a political hack and if his report is lacking anything it will be because the Israeli government is hiding or withholding information (which I wouldn’t put past them) but he won’t.”

    See, NGO Monitor was just keeping quiet about this whole project because they weren’t finished yet. Perhaps they are doing it in coordination with the IZT?

    I look forward to reading the unbiased and objective report when it comes in. I am starting to hold my breath……now!

    For a short rundown of the logic of Steinberg’s allies, here are some other good doosies from the conversation with my Professor friend:

    My Prof. friend stated: “The fact you and your cohorts hate Steinberg so much means he’s doing well [and that you] are a bunch of marginals who are being funded by foreign governments.”

    Moreover, he said he has: “no problem with civil rights but I do have a problem with terrorists abusing them to kill people. By the way, check out the civil rights violations under both Palestinian governments. i’ll bet you’ll find they’re worse.”

    To which I replied: “I guess B’Tselem, The Association For Civil Rights in Israel and the AIC are terrorist organizations, because that is among the orgs he is trying to quash. Ah what a democratic state Israel would be without Human Rights and Civil Rights organizations.”

    The funny meat of the conversation was when the Prof. said: “All Steinberg is doing is shining the light of day on the behavior of certain organizations. Can’t stand the heat?”

    To which I said: “Now get away from your outright lie that what this is about is transparency. This is foundationally about a way to undercut the ability of civil and human rights organizations in Israel to shine a light on the actions of the Israeli government and military, to support your love for Israeli impunity.”

    Later I said: “And it is interesting that one of the organizations your friend attacks, PCHR is one of the strongest and most important monitoring groups in Palestinian society, constantly putting out critiques of (1) a lack of religious freedom (2) a lack of the freedom of the press (3) a lack of freedom to criticize one’s government in those areas. However, due to the fact that they ALSO criticize Israeli actions in the territories, he wants to undercut them and eliminate them. What a hack.”

    Later regarding Steinberg’s position that any Human Rights or Civil Rights NGO that gets foreign government funding is nothing more than a foreign lobbying group agitating against the Israeli government surreptitiously, I quoted: “your (his) argument regarding it is nonsense. The EU funds human rights projects throughout the world, including in its own member countries, as well as Russia and China. And what… See More about the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute (supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State), the International Republican Institute and USAID? What about the fact that under the umbrella of groups such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a process exists of democracies monitoring one another — the Helsinki groups of legislators who track human rights in each others’ nations is an example. What about Western government backing for NGOs assisting Jews in the Soviet Union during the Cold War — and how such support continues today in Iran and the former Soviet Union. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, for instance, routinely tracks discrimination against Roma and Jews in democracies such as Romania and the Baltic states.”

    To which he stated: “So, basically, you agitate against the Israeli government using money from a number of European governments?”

    And later he stated more explicitly: “And this is Steiberg’s point. There is a difference between Israelis engaging in criticism of their government and foreign-government paid stooges doing it. If these foreign governments don’t like what Israel does they can say so publicly as governments and not through people such as yourself pretending to be something they are not. You are NOT an independent voice. You are a professional critic bought and paid for by foreign governments. If you were forced to make this more clear when you engage in your criticism less people would listen to you because your pedigree is more like that of a paid lobbyist of a foreign government than a concerned citizen.”

    To which I stated: “Again, this type of international support for Civil and Human rights organization is commonplace and accepted […].

    Nothing has changed, except that suddenly there is a strong movement among the Israeli right to eliminate human and civil rights monitoring and critique of the actions of the Israeli government, and this is seen as a way to eventually undercut the ability of these organizations to go about their valuable work.

    On the other hand, there is no call for real transparency, because that would impact the pro-occupation and pro-settler agenda that you and your friends have.

    It is simply a political and ideological agenda to quash internal (and external) criticism of Israeli actions.”

    At one point regarding my question as to why NGO Monitor doesn’t uphold the same level of transparency upon itself, he replied: “It is insistent, It only asks for disclosure of GOVERNMENT souces. It doesnt have any as far as I know.”

    To which I replied: “Why don’t you think that the monies and consequently inordinate power of people like Irving Moskowitz, who supports extremist fringe politics with lasting detrimental impact to Israel is not as or (in my opinion) more problematic in setting an agenda that is not locally powered and has a large impact on Israeli society, politics, etc. That should be ignored? Or the power of a few super rich individuals, that drive a neoliberal agenda in Israel with influence over Israeli politics.
    Could it be at all, that not looking at this is based on the ideological trend in this type of funding vs other types. Because it is obviously not based on impact or danger to israeli democracy per se.
    It is also not an issue of acceptability, because I pointed to numerous foreign government subsidized human and civil rights ngo programs around the world. ”

    Hope you enjoyed that excerpt from the argument as much as I did having it…

  1. December 6, 2009 at 16:12
  2. December 6, 2009 at 16:13
  3. December 7, 2009 at 15:09
  4. December 8, 2009 at 06:57

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