NGO Monitor’s Steinberg responds


The director of NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, responds to an item I posted on The Telegraph on Wednesday about some inaccuracies in the Monitor’s latest newsletter. Additional comments of mine follow his letter:



I have no objection to being criticized, just as I expect NGOs and their funders, like NIF, to accept the legitimacy of criticism and the importance of informed public debate on these important issues. However, I do think that your blog item was unfair and inaccurate, and that you seem to be targeting NGO Monitor, beginning with the headline.

The text starts by referring to NGO Monitor as “a pro-Israel watchdog group whose favorite targets are Arab-Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups”. This is an ideologically loaded description. Instead, you might have described us as “an Israel-based watchdog group that examines NGOs for bias and inaccuracy in regarding alleged human rights violations”. And regarding “disingenuous (read: inaccurate) elements in Steinberg’s item” — disingenuous implies that what you read as a mistaken reference to ongoing NIF funding for ICAHD was placed there deliberately, which you cannot know and which is untrue.

You also did not give the reader a chance to judge the syntax for him/herself (other than linking the item). The text (before the change in syntax) read: “…WILPF – along with NIF-funded Mossawa and radical ICAHD (funded by the EU until recently),…”. It is a stretch to read this as claiming NIF funding for ICAHD is continuing, and the syntax error may be yours, but the reader would have to open the link to check this. However, to remove any possible misunderstanding, the sentence has been changed. In terms of accuracy, we have demonstrated this – your first email to me claimed that Mossawa was also not funded by NIF, but when I sent you the link to the NIF annual report, you dropped this claim.

On the substance of NIF’s support for NGOs promoting BDS, you refer to “NIF funding rules”, whereas NGO Monitor used the term “funding criteria”, based on Naomi Paiss’s 2006 letter, which states that “NIF has never funded groups that call for divestment”. In her statement to you, she said: "It’s not something that disqualifies all by itself a grantee from NIF support." Perhaps it was Paiss who was being disingenuous. You then wrote a pejorative sentence on “Steinberg having to stretch the truth”. Readers can judge for themselves, but I think many will find NGO Monitor’s wording to be an accurate reflection of the evidence.

As I wrote at the beginning of this response to your blog item, I and NGO Monitor accept and learn from criticism, particularly when it is valid. In this case, however, the evidence indicates that your criticism “stretched the truth”.

I look forward to your response, and suggest that you post this on your blog for others to read.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director,

I mean not to belabor my points, but to give Mr. Steinberg the courtesy of answering his request for a response. So I’ll be brief:

  • I don’t think my description of NGO Monitor is ideologically loaded, and it wasn’t meant as a dig. It was an attempt to characterize, in a phrase, the group’s work.
  • On the issue of disingenuousness, this is not the first time NGO Monitor has falsely implied that ICAHD is funded by the New Israel Fund. NGO Monitor repeatedly has tried to tie the NIF to ICAHD — a fringe Israeli group that blames Israel with "ethnic cleansing" and "war crimes" — even though Steinberg knows NIF has not funded ICAHD in years. Sometimes he does this by lumping ICAHD together with other NIF-funded groups, as in this line, which appears in a February 2008 article by NGO Monitor: "War on Want, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Keshev, I’lam and ICAHD, (whose funders include the EU, Finnish and British governments, and NIF), are joining a number of extremist NGOs to promote ‘Israeli Apartheid week.’" Other times, he uses misleading headlines, such as this one: "NIF Fellowship promotes the Agendas of ICAHD and ISM." That appeared in an August 2005 article that itself acknowledged that NIF no longer funds ICAHD. But you wouldn’t think so by reading the headline.
  • Steinberg is correct in reprimanding me for not including the original syntax of his newsletter in my post. Had I incuded it, you would have been able to judge for yourself NGO Monitor’s blurring of the line between ICAHD and NIF.
  • My blogpost never suggested Mossawa wasn’t funded by the NIF. It is. (I didn’t know that when I originally e-mailed Steinberg and asked about Mossawa and ICAHD, but I checked with the NIF before putting up my blogpost, which is why Mossawa never made it into the post).
  • Perhaps Steinberg cannot be blamed for thinking NIF had a criterion, or a rule, that barred support for groups that back divestment from Israel. It would seem logical, especially from the tone of Naomi Paiss’ 2006 letter. But that’s not the case. NIF’s policy is not to withdraw support from groups simply because they say things NIF might find objectionable. The question for NIF is, where will they draw the line?

Recommended from JTA