NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 8) 19 May 2003
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
The EMHRN is essentially a funding and development arm of the European Union, linked to the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the European Commission Technical Assistance Office to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Strictly speaking, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) is not an NGO, but shares many features of a typical NGO - non-profit and non-affiliated, claiming to serve the public interest with apolitical humanitarian goals. EMHRN's mission statement on its website defines EMHRN as a "network of human rights organizations whose principle task is to facilitate the work of its over fifty members, based in more than twenty countries."
In this way, EMHRN appears to be capable of allying with and funding other organizations whose principles are consistent neither with formal EU funding criteria nor with universal human rights principles. As an organization funded by taxpayers of the member states of the EU, it is surprising to discover the extent of anti-Israel activity. (EMHRN does not highlight the extent of its official connections to the EU).
The EMHRN was founded at the Barcelona Conference of November 1995, which was attended by 27 Foreign Ministers representing the 15 European Union Member States and the 12 Mediterranean Partners. The Partnership "was intended to provide a global framework for relations covering all aspects of mutual interest, including developing democracy and a culture of human rights values." This forms part of the wider MEDA program, a plan to strengthen coordination throughout the Mediterranean region, which has been allotted an annual budget of 5.35 billion Euros to promote, "prosperity, democracy, stability and security" (http://www.delwbg.cec.eu.int/en/ partnership/02/rsp02_06.pdf p.4).
EMHRN defines its objectives as:
Although the organization funds Israeli NGOs and maintains formal contacts, the following analysis reveals that EMHRN's activities are inconsistent with its mission statement and goal of "a need to develop a constructive dialogue with governments." As the press releases and history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrate, EMHRN
has adopted a thoroughly ideological and political agenda with regard to Israel.
- to support and publicise the universal principles of human rights as expressed in the Barcelona Declaration
- to strengthen, assist and co-ordinate the efforts of its members to monitor the Partner States' compliance with the human rights principles in the Barcelona Declaration
- to support the development of democratic institutions, promote the rule of law, human rights and human rights education, and to strengthen civil society in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Source: EMHRN website, www.euromedrights.net
EMHRN Press Releases
Analyzed in this section are two recent examples of EMHRN press releases that omit vital points of context, use inappropriate phraseology and have a charged ideological tone, in blatant contradiction of EMHRN's self-stated principles, quoted above. The first is the press release from January 2003 related to the Israeli election campaign, and initial decision of the Israeli election commission (later reversed) to disqualify two radical Arab candidates for violating the law.1
1. Tomorrow Israeli Supreme Court must overturn disqualification of Arab party and members of Knesset to run in next election (8.1.2003)
...banning the NDA [Bishara's political party], Bishara and Tibi from the elections is in itself undemocratic, violating the right to equality between citizens and the principle of law. Furthermore, evidence that Bishara and Tibi have supported terrorist activities is unfounded, and relies on a definition of 'support of terror' that itself violates fundamental rights of freedom of expression.
The press release concludes:
[EMHRN] also urges the European Union and its Member States to clearly condemn the CEC [Central Election Committee] decisions, which run counter to Israel's commitments to the Barcelona Declaration and the EU-Israel Association Agreement.
There are three major inaccuracies in this press release. First, while condemning the proposed disqualification of Tibi and Bishara from Knesset [Israel Parliament] elections as "undemocratic and violating the rule of law," the press release fails to mention the proposed disqualification of Baruch Mazel (a candidate of the right-wing Jewish party Herut). All three candidates were accused of racist incitement and all three, Jewish and Arab, went through exactly the same process. (Subsequently, the decision on Tibi and Bishara was reversed by the Israeli High Court, both were elected, but EMHRN did not issue a correction).
...Furthermore, discrimination on the basis of religion, race etc, runs counter to international human rights standards.
The CEC used the precedent of a ban imposed on an extreme Jewish party called Kach, which was responsible for attacking Palestinians, from standing in the Knesset elections in the 1980s. No human rights NGOs raised any objections to that decision. EMHRN should have explained the basis for acceptance of the disqualification of a Jewish candidate because of extreme statements, while condemning the disqualification of Arab members who also have delivered inflammatory statements.
It is an established principle in democratic societies that measures can be taken to prevent incitement by candidates standing for election. Indeed, all democracies have mechanisms to challenge a candidate's suitability for public service. The Venice Commission produced a 1998 paper entitled, Prohibition of Political Parties and Analogous Measures2 that acknowledges a political party may be dissolved "particularly when its purpose is to commit or help to commit a crime." The most relevant recent European examples include Spain's recent decision to ban the violent Basque separatist party, Batasuna, and Germany's policy regarding prohibition of neo-Nazi parties.3
Secondly, the assertion that Bishara's and Tibi's support of terror is "unfounded" ignores substantial evidence. Bishara does not deny that he violated Israeli law by visiting Syria twice; a state that is still at war with Israel. While there, he eulogized the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and called for the continuation of the armed struggle against Israel. Syria supports terror groups, particularly the Islamic Jihad, responsible for scores of terror attacks and headquartered in Damascus. And Dr. Ahmed Tibi is a close advisor to Yassir Arafat, and enjoys very close ties with the Palestinian Authority. At the time of the elections, the PA was for all intents and purposes at a state of war with Israel and was deemed responsible for a continuing campaign of terror that has killed hundreds of Israeli citizens. None of this was mentioned in EMHRN's press release or publicity campaign.
Third, the claim that decision of the CEC was evidence of "discrimination on the basis of religion, race etc, runs counter to international human rights standards" is false. Bishara and Tibi were only two of some 15 Arab candidates with a realistic chance of being elected. These two were singled out, along with the Jewish candidate, Baruch Mazel, for extreme comments that could lead to incitement. Race and religion per se were not the basis for the challenge. If they were, other Arab candidates would have also have been disqualified.
This case reveals the strong political motivation behind the press release and highlights a recurring theme in EMHRN reports and activities - campaigning for the cancellation of the EU-Israel Association agreement. The EU-Israel trade agreement does indeed stipulate guaranteeing measures against discrimination on the basis of race. This incident actually demonstrates that Israel consistently upholds the terms of these agreements. The mechanisms for preventing accused Jewish and Arab extremists being given a public platform are not evidence of discrimination or racism. The fact that all three were allowed to stand also proves how Israeli judicial review safeguards any potential abuse of these mechanisms.
2. In the second example, we examine the second paragraph of a press release condemning the recent war in Iraq. The implication of this section is that Israel is as legitimate a target for attack as Iraq, putting Saddam's gross human rights violations on the same level as the democratic State of Israel's fight against terror.
The war against Iraq must not take place (24.10.02).
...Israel, a heavily armed State, has not only failed to comply with international resolutions and the humanitarian Geneva Conventions, but has also violated successive peace agreements signed under the auspices of the great powers, notably the United States, benefiting from their unconditional support. Implementing the principle of collective responsibility, Israel exercises permanent military aggression against the entire Palestinian population with impunity, resulting in fundamental human rights violations on a massive scale.
The final paragraph reveals the true political agenda behind this piece:
The Network believes that the European Union, notably France and the United Kingdom, members of the security council, and in addition Syria, have a crucial role to play in the present situation
Syria is a state guilty of gross human rights violations and, as pointed out above, hosts Islamic Jihad, one of four terror groups carrying out suicide bombings on civilian areas in Israel. In addition, the Syrian army continues a large-scale presence in Lebanon, leading most analysts to conclude that Syria is effectively carrying out a low intensity occupation of Lebanon.
If EMHRN's goal is to promote democracy and human rights, it would not choose to underplay gross human rights violations in Iraq, or support Syria's efforts to condemn the democratic State of Israel's fight against terror.
EMHRN Open Letter
NGO Open letter for the EU concerning the EU-Israel Association Council, (18.10.02), addressed to EU Foreign Affairs Ministers, EU High Representative for CFSP, Javier Solana and EU Commissioner, Chris Patten, (http://www.euromedrights.net/english/emhrn-documents/pressreleases/18_10_2002.htm)
The purpose of this document is to call on the EU foreign ministers to change their policy towards Israel. The recommendations section of the open letter reads:
Total or partial suspension of the Association Agreement
The rationale given in the press release is "Israel's indiscriminate, excessive and disproportionate use of force....Willful killings, arbitrary executions and targeted assassinations."
In view of the large-scale human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by Israel and due to the fact that in practice the Agreement continues to cover goods produced in the Occupied Territories (in the settlements), we call on the EU to take negative measures under the agreement, such as the suspension of trade benefits.
The report makes no mention of the Israeli army's efforts to limit civilian casualties in its fight against a sustained campaign of terror. Instead of describing how Israel chose to risk its own soldiers in a land attack on the Jenin Refugee Camp instead of an aerial bombardment that would have been far less risky, Israel is accused of "willful killings." Moreover, no mention is made of the willful killings, in the truest sense of the term, Israel has been exposed to almost every day for the last two and a half years by frequent Palestinian suicide bombings.
The letter was signed by Abdelaziz Bennani, President of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), Sidiki Kaba, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Eric Sottas Director of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT). It should be noted that a similar press release was issued 11.4.2002, just a few months earlier, also calling for the suspension of the association agreement with Israel.
This is another example of EMHRN use of EU funds to support the propaganda campaign against Israel.
EMHRN News Sources
The EMRHN website features a news service for each of the countries in which it has operations. The 'news providers' for Israel is the NGO, The Arab Association of Human Rights (HRA). The HRA news briefs are mainly based on the Arab press and almost exclusively cover the Arab community. They display a clear ideological and political agenda to undermine the State of Israel. The NGOs Law and PCHR provide the Palestinian news service. All three of these organizations have demonstrated a consistent strong ideological bias against Israel. Analyses of all three of these organizations can be found at http://www.jcpa.org/ica/index.htm#ngo.
The EMHRN carries considerable moral authority because of its links to the EU. EU statesmen and policy officials use their services to understand the conflict. Using these three NGOs as 'news providers' is a gross breach of professional responsibility. However, the fundamental question that needs addressing is if or how the news service supports EMHRN's declared objectives.
This study illustrates the highly problematic link between politicized NGOs and government funding organizations. Through EMHRN's financial and logistical partnership with PCHR and Law, these two highly politicized and ideological "human rights organizations" wield immense power in the European Union. Their credibility and influence is based entirely on their status as humanitarian NGOs and the funds provided to market their products. The true extent of their political identity is carefully concealed through the exploitation of the image of a non-political NGO, couched in the rhetoric of universal human rights. EMHRN that acts as a way station between the individual organizations and the EU, and the influence of EMHRN and its NGO partners on EU policy in the Middle East has large-scale political and economic ramifications for both Israelis and Palestinians. The advocacy of a trade boycott is just one example.
These alliances grant a high level of legitimacy to politicized NGOs. It should be made clear that EMHRN does fund Israeli NGOs and Israel is a part of the EMHRN network, but many of the Israeli NGOs involved with EMHRN are based in the Arab Israeli community that share an anti-Israel agenda.
The one-sidedness of the press releases and the choice of the news source confirm that in regard to Israel policy EMRHN is driven more by partisan ideology than by the far more noble values of democracy and human rights. In this way, the EU is responsible for supporting anti-Israel propaganda, in violation of its own ground rules.
1. The Israeli Parliament's Central Election Committee (CEC) voted to suspend the candidatures of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), its leader MK, Azmi Bishara (Balad), and MK Ahmad Tibi of the rival Hadash-Ta'al, on the grounds of breaking Israeli law through their alleged support of terror organizations and undermining Israeli democracy. Following an appeal against the CEC decision, the Israeli Supreme Court decided, January 9, to reinstate the above candidates into the Israeli electoral process.
For the report: http://www.venice.coe.int/docs/1998/CDL-INF(1998)014-e.html. General Information on the Venice Commission: http://venice.coe.int/site/interface/english.htm.
Moves by European states against radical political parties has aroused considerable press attention, cf. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2217919.stm. Germany has placed bans on several neo Nazi groups and France has also banned the neo-fascist New Order, Radical Unity and the Defense Union Group (GUD).