German party pours dark money into Israel to influence domestic politics

Political foundations are funding organizations working to change the Jewish identity of the state or to undermine Israel’s security.

By David Isaac, JNS

While the subject of European money funneled to Israeli left-wing groups in order to influence Israeli civil society and politics is nothing new, recent research reveals that not only is Germany the largest contributor to radical anti-Israel NGOs, but it is also providing the money in the most devious ways, including through foundations linked to German political parties.

More is known about these German party foundations and their activities thanks to research by Im Tirtzu, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group, which published a report last month whose findings were also released as a Hebrew-language book, “Country for Sale,” by Im Tirtzu Chairman Matan Peleg.

Over the last decade, 1.4 billion shekels ($400 million) in foreign funding poured into Israeli NGOs. Germany’s share was 150 million shekels ($44 million), putting it at No. 1 among foreign donors. Of that 150 million shekels, some 30 million ($9 million), or roughly 20%, came from German political foundations, according to Im Tirtzu.

“Party foundations, or party political funds, are unique to Germany. No other country funding organizations within Israel uses them. They are funds linked to active parties in Germany’s parliament,” Alon Schvartzer, head of Im Tirtzu’s research and policy division, told JNS.

Six German foundations tied to political parties operate in Israel, including the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, linked to the Christian Democratic Union, formerly led by Angela Merkel, the Heinrich Böll Foundation of the Green Party, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of the Die Linke, or The Left Party.

“We looked at where this money was going and we found that the Germans are literally funding organizations that are either working to change the Jewish and democratic identity of the state or seeking to undermine Israel’s security,” Schvartzer said.

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Of the six German funds, four have registered in Israel as Public Benefit Corporations, which requires them to submit quarterly reports regarding donations from foreign political entities. Im Tirtzu found they have not complied with the law.

Merav Hajaj of Choosing Life, a forum of Israeli terror victims and bereaved families, filed a complaint with the Israeli police on Sept. 8 against the four German foundations registered in Israel, a necessary step to initiating an investigation.

Hajaj’s complaint focuses on their failure to file financial reports, which she said is reason to close them down. “They should strip these groups of all their permits,” she said.

It’s who and what the Germans are funding that drives Hajaj, who lost her daughter Shir to a 2017 terror attack in Jerusalem.

“The Germans come here and interfere in all kinds of ways in Israeli domestic matters. As a bereaved family member, I see it in the courts. They finance [HaMoked] the Center for the Defense of the Individual, which defends terrorists,” she told JNS.

“From my perspective, they’re supporting terror. Terrorists don’t think twice once they know that when they murder Jews they’ll have lawyers paid for by the Germans,” she said.

Explained Schvartzer, “For bureaucratic reasons, German funds set up branches here in Israel. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, for example, set up an Israeli fund called simply ‘Rosa Luxemburg.’ When the latter receives money from the former, they’re supposed to report it to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, something they don’t do.”

“They’re also supposed to note on their website and in their advertisements that their principal funding comes from a foreign political entity, which they also haven’t done,” he added.

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Schvartzer said that the reason for the Israeli law is transparency. “An average Israeli citizen sees an ad from Rosa Luxemburg and has no idea if it’s German or Israeli. If he sees it’s foreign-funded, he’ll know whether it’s an authentic Israeli group behind the ad or a foreign interest.”

“This is my explanation for why these groups ignore the law. They understand it hurts their authenticity with the Israeli public,” he said.

“When Germany gives to a group like Adalah that works against the IDF’s open-fire rules, or to the Center for the Defense of the Individual, which petitions against the demolition of terrorist homes, or finances groups that seek to prevent the removal of illegal immigrants, they’re interfering in Israel’s internal affairs,” Schvartzer said.

“You would think that Germany, of all countries, would be the most circumspect, given its history, in meddling in internal Israeli politics,” he noted.

Hajaj said, “It’s the continuation of anti-Semitism. How else do you explain it? They’ve transferred their hatred of Jews to a hatred of Israel.”

Germany seems to be of two minds. Even as it funds radical groups in Israel, it accepts responsibility for its crimes against the Jewish people. At a Berlin event on Sept. 15, Germany agreed to pay $1.3 billion for home care for elderly Holocaust survivors.

“We bear no individual guilt today but we have a moral obligation and a historic responsibility for what was done in the name of Germany,” said Finance Minister Christian Lindner at the event.

This apologetic line is nowhere found in the behavior of the German foundations, which have dealt arrogantly with Israeli authorities, Schvartzer said. When Israeli officials noted the funds failed to fulfill basic requirements, the funds said that holding up the process would damage German-Israel relations.

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“They basically threatened,” Schvartzer said. “I believe it’s because of that threat that Israel has failed to take any action against them up until now despite the fact that they’ve been flouting Israeli law for years.”

He said that accusing Israel of harming relations is turning matters on their head. “The German public pays taxes that are given to political parties, which hand that money over to party funds meant to advance party ideas in Germany, and instead intervene in a non-transparent way while flouting Israeli law in our domestic politics. So who’s really hurting relations here? It’s them,” he said.

A change may be in the offing. The Heinrich Böll Foundation, for example, hadn’t submitted financial reports since 2014. “Two weeks after our report, they submitted a large collection of those reports,” he said.

Schvartzer suggested that new Israeli legislation may be necessary, such as taxing foreign contributions to NGOs. “If Germany sees that 50 percent of their money goes to the State of Israel in taxes, they’ll say to themselves it’s not worth it.”

Hajaj argues for a blanket ban on foreign funding. “What really needs to happen is to stop the transfer of funds from all associations that receive foreign monies, not only from Germany. Germany is just one example. It’s the head of the snake. But there are many other countries. There’s the whole European Union.

“All the funds that enter here to intervene in election matters or in the internal affairs of the State of Israel need to stop, plain and simple,” she said.