Switzerland vows to tighten review of funding for Palestinian groups


(JTA) — The foreign minister of Switzerland vowed to tighten his ministry’s oversight of funding for Palestinian groups after lawmakers passed critical motions on the subject.

Didier Burkhalter made the promise during a debate in the Swiss Senate on Tuesday after the federal upper house of Switzerland adopted parts of a motion passed by the lower house earlier this week, the RFJ broadcaster reported.

‘We are going to take a series of measures” to prevent the use of Swiss funds for activity deemed conducive to the incitement of hatred against Jews and Israel, Burkhalter said. Contracts on cooperation with nongovernmental organizations will be revised to contain more explicit stipulations, and review of “political risks” will be reinforced and detailed in a report to the federal government, he added.

The Swiss government will have a more active role in supervising the dispensation of funds on the ground globally “and more particularly in the Middle East, where the risk of abuse is elevated,” the minister was quoted as saying.

Whereas Burkhalter acknowledged that the current terms of funding for Palestinian and some Israeli NGOs needed revision, he emphasized that “Switzerland does not in any way support organizations that incite hatred or anti-Semitism, or organizations associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.”

The motion calling for “better oversight on the funding of NGOs in the Middle East” passed by the Senate is a softened version of the motion passed earlier this week in the lower house, RFJ reported. It omitted the explicit reference to the rejection of BDS by Switzerland present in the motion passed by the lower house.

According to NGO Monitor, an Israel-based organization that reviews the funding given to NGOs deemed hostile to the Jewish state and some of the policies of its government, the vote in the lower house was the first time a European country has passed legislation to end funding for NGOs that are vehicles for incitement and hate speech and that specifically include anti-Semitism.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry had in the past refused to review or even disclose information pertaining to its funding of organizations focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Israel.

Christian Imark, a lower house lawmaker, proposed the original resolution. Reporting by Dominik Feusi, a journalist from Beisler Zeitung, was pivotal in placing the issue at the forefront of the debate in Switzerland, NGO Monitor said.

On Saturday, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said it had launched an audit of the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, which is the primary funding mechanism for Switzerland, alongside Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The Secretariat disbursed over $14 million to NGOs from 2014 to 2016, with $7.3 million in core funding being distributed to groups involved in BDS campaigns against Israel, according to NGO Monitor.

Specifically, 15 of the 24 core funding recipients and a further 11 out of 20 project grant recipients in this period support BDS, the group said Tuesday in a statement.

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