Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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Accomplishing a Sisyphean task

The logo of HR/IHL (Niras)

The logo of HR/IHL (Niras)

Sometimes, if you fight the good fight long enough, you can have an impact – even in what seem like losing battles.

Two recent topics come to mind, both involving Israel. On the UN front, there has been a small core of activists resisting the bias at the UN, specifically at the UN Human Rights Council. The primary party engaged in this work is UN Watch, an NGO led by the indefatigable Hillel Neuer. It’s been an uphill battle, to be sure. But Neuer has held his ground, steadily and calmly making the case for Israel on the floor of the UN Human Rights Council, while pointing out the hypocrisy of virtually ignoring, by comparison, human rights atrocities happening elsewhere in the world. The work he’s done is now bolstered by the seismic change in the form of Nikki Haley, the new US ambassador to the UN. Appointing her was, by far, the most impactful thing Donald Trump has done. Haley has made it clear that the bias won’t stand — and one of the reasons she’s so aware of the bias is because of the yeoman’s work Neuer has done.

The other example is more personal. One of my projects at the pro-Israel foundation I worked at in Zurich was tracking Swiss government funding of Palestinian NGOs. The primary goal was to determine if the funds were going to institutions upholding Swiss values and, if not, lobbying the Swiss government to stop their funding. The issue first came to light when a Palestinian NGO that received Swiss – among other European countries – funding published a heinous ant-Semitic cartoon. There was outrage and the funding was pulled.

In our work, we focused on something called the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, which is funded jointly by Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. The HR/IHL functions as an umbrella that gives out money to myriad NGOs, so the research involved investigating the activities of each NGO and determining whether those activities fit with Swiss values — for example, whether an NGO supported the two-state solution, the official Swiss position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fortunately there’s a group in Israel called NGO Monitor that does this kind of work worldwide, and we were able to make use of their research and shares. When I left Switzerland, the project — and lobbying effort — was still underway.

Imagine my delight when, just today, a JTA brief came in: “Switzerland vows to tighten review of funding for Palestinian groups.” Turns out, the hard work — continued by those we were working with, picked up by even more people — is finally paying dividends.

Could it be — did even Sisyphus one day reach the top of the mountain?

Shana Goldberg

IJN Assistant Publisher |

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