Switzerland withholds data on funding for BDS groups, cites ‘foreign policy interests’


(JTA) — The Foreign Ministry of Switzerland is withholding information on government funding for promoters of boycotts against Israel, citing a desire to avoid harming the country’s foreign relations interests.

An official from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs sent the unusual refusal and its reasoning earlier this month to NGO Monitor, an Israel-based organization that compiles and publishes information on funding for organizations that describe themselves as human rights groups and other nongovernmental entities active in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In October, NGO Monitor requested the Swiss Foreign Ministry hand over information on its allocation of funds to NIRAS Natura AB, a Swedish-based firm that handles the ministry’s funding to the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat. Set up by Switzerland and three other European countries, the Secretariat funds Palestinian organizations, including ones that promote boycotts.

But the Swiss Foreign Ministry declined to hand over the information to NGO Monitor and to another party that had expressed interest in the funding.

“We had to reject this request,” a ministry legal adviser wrote to NGO Monitor in a Jan. 11 email in accordance with a provision that states that “the right of access shall be limited, deferred or refused if such access to an official document is likely to affect the interests of Switzerland in matters of foreign policy and international relations,” the legal adviser wrote in the email obtained by JTA this week.

The ministry’s refusal to hand over the documents is pending appeals. Several European governments have displayed reluctance to release detailed information of their funding for Palestinian activism. However, a refusal citing foreign policy interests is unusual for European governments with a commitment to transparency.

Funding by the Secretariat, whose donor countries are Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, has gone to the production of anti-Israel propaganda, according to NGO Monitor.

Among the beneficiaries of funding by those countries is the Palestinian organization Badil, which holds annual Palestinian “right of return contests” and has published anti-Semitic cartoons on its website, as well as imagery promoting the elimination of Israel, which is a widely recognized form of anti-Semitism.

A cartoon that won a monetary prize for finishing second in Badil’s 2010 Al-Awda Nakba caricature competition features a Jewish man, garbed in traditional Hasidic attire, with a hooked nose and side locks. He stands above a dead child and skulls, holding a pitchfork dripping with blood.

“Those most effected by the funding, including Israelis, Palestinians and Swiss taxpayers, should be able to see how these crucial decisions are made, and how this money is being spent,” Shaun Sacks, NGO Monitor’s Europe desk researcher, wrote in a statement about the Swiss ministry’s refusal to disclose documents.

Last year, 41 lawmakers out of 200 serving in the federal parliament supported a demand that the government adjust funding regulations so that Swiss taxpayer money would not be directly or indirectly distributed as aid to “racist and anti-Semitic” groups or those involved in promoting boycotts and hate speech.

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