Event Summary: ‘European Governments and the BDS Wars: Public Opposition, Private Support?’


By Hugh Coates
On the 19th May, Professor Gerald Steinberg, Founder and President of NGO Monitor, delivered a talk on the current Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign against Israel. The event panel also included Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, which also hosted the event, and was chaired by Baroness Deech. The talk took place in the Houses of Parliament.

Professor Steinberg began his talk by exploring the roots of the BDS movement. He was first keen to address the misconception that the idea had emerged from Omar Barghouti, but instead, that its birthplace was in fact the UN Durban Conference in 2001 – which had aimed at tackling discrimination of all forms. It was from here that NGOs conceptualised a grand strategy against Israel, which drew on anti-apartheid initiatives.

The central theme of Professor Steinberg’s talk evolved around the financial aspect of the BDS movement. After the Durban Conference, he felt there was glaring lack of scrutiny for NGOs. The so-called ‘Halo effect’, as he referred to it, had protected them from such accountability.

Nevertheless, in his work for NGO Monitor, he has been able to highlight underlying motives of certain NGOs and the governments that have enabled their activities. A particularly salient finding of his research, was that while European governments – he believed sincerely – opposed BDS, but through various political insinuations such as the European Union and bodies like DFID, were still allowing NGOs to propagate BDS using state money. It was here that he gave a timely reminder that this campaign against Israel was not solely about occupation, but a resurgence of the 1940’s agenda questioning its right to even exist.

Professor Steinberg cited the obfuscation created by a lack of transparency when attempting to gain information on the due diligence process for NGO funding, or who is making funding decisions. It is transparency that – according to Steinberg – provides the first stage of solving the problem. Alongside full transparency, he called for stricter guidelines on funding; that there should be political oversight, in Britain’s case, parliamentary oversight over DFID’s expenditures; and finally, a reform of the mechanism of the funding process.

Douglas Murray followed this detailed insight by leading the questions. He asked Professor Steinberg to describe the role of churches in the BDS movement; what could realistically be achieved in countering the movement at citizenship level; and to comment on recent legislation to tackle unilateral BDS policy on a local level.


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