A large advertisement in one of the major Hebrew language newspapers recently promoted a meeting of fringe left-wing women's groups under the banner of peacemaking and in honor of International Women's Day. In its content and location, there was nothing particularly unusual about this ad - such attempts to rally what little remains of the "peace camp" after the terror campaign are common and legitimate.
But this very expensive ad was noticeable because it was funded in part (perhaps entirely) by a German political organization which receives allocations from a German political party and the government. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung masquerades as a benevolent funding agency to assist Israeli "civil society," including academic research.
But, as this and other examples highlight, it is more of a political elephant trampling on and distorting the complex fabric of Israeli democracy.
Unfortunately, this awkward attempt by outside governments to manipulate Israeli public opinion is not unique.
Manipulation from the outside
The murky attempt to sell another round of the Oslo catastrophe under the "Geneva Initiative"
received major funding from the Swiss Foreign Ministry (the Geneva group was listed as a participant in the "women's rally").
And large sums have poured in from the European Union and its member states to so-called non-government organizations in Israel for use in "empowering Palestinians" and "ending the occupation." Jeffrey Halper's one-man NGO, whose agenda consists primarily of attacks against the "apartheid wall," and rhetoric aimed at undermining Israel's legitimacy, has received hundreds of thousand of dollars from the European Union.
These lapses in civil behavior are not the result of bad judgment on the part of funders, or, in the case of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the gross offensiveness of a German organization seeking to mold Israeli views on war and peace.
More broadly, such examples demonstrate a consistent and blatant attempt to manipulate a democratic process from the outside. Would France tolerate a mass advertising campaign aimed at civil society by American-government supported radical anti-abortion groups? How would Germans react to a British government funded program designed to influence the public debate on citizenship and asylum rules for millions of immigrants?
Europe blind to Arab tyranny
Indeed, funding from groups such as Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for "civil society" organizations and NGOs in Israel (whether marginal or main-stream; on the political left of right) is inconsistent with basic democratic principles.
In sharp contrast to the U.S., much of Europe is blind to the differences between Israeli democracy and Arab tyranny. The European Mediterranean Policy framework, also known as the Barcelona Process, uses the same methods and approaches to "civil society" in the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Egypt and North Africa as it tries in democratic Israel.
And for many years, few European academics, journalists, diplomats, and think tanks distinguished between Arafat's corrupt dictatorship and Israel's robust democracy.
It is difficult to judge whether such manipulation efforts funded by foreign governments had a major impact in leading Israelis to embrace the Oslo "peace process," but the question is valid. Perhaps this process went further and stayed alive artificially, despite the terror bombings and Palestinian incitement, due to the advertising campaigns for the "peace camp," as well as the rallies and other activities paid for by self-interested regimes and political funds.
However, since most of these funding organizations, including the European Union and its member governments fail to practice the transparency that they preach to others, Israelis do not have access to reliable information.
Follow Sharansky, support Palestinian democracy
There are numerous press reports on European funding for political parties, affiliated think tanks, and anti-Israel "human rights" NGOs. Until these governments begin to practice transparency with respect to funding for political activities in Israel, and until such manipulation efforts are halted, Europe's desire to be a "player and not a payer" in managing the conflict will be stillborn.
And as for attempting to rally woman in the cause of peace, the evidence that gender makes a difference is slim. In the intense conflicts in places such as Chechnya and Northern Ireland, women are active participants in the brutality and incitement.
Similarly, Palestinian woman proudly claim to be on the front lines of the "armed struggle" against the Jewish state, participating actively in the terror campaign. Women such as Hanan Ashwari are among the most effective Palestinian propagandists in the political war against Israel. And in democracies under attack, such as Israel, the voting patterns of Israeli women are no different than the men.
In other words, in its no doubt sincere efforts to bring peace to this region, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung should follow Natan Sharansky's guidance, by using its budget to support Palestinian democracy, rather than undermining Israel's.
Gerald Steinberg is editor of www.ngo-monitor.org and professor of politics at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv