Transparency International?

A couple of weeks ago I made a modest proposal for greater transparency in the “marketplace of ideas.” The basic idea was that lots of think tanks and media pundits are reluctant to divulge their sources of support in detail, which makes it harder for those who consume their products to decide if it is ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
575959_091204_Walt93609449b2.jpg
575959_091204_Walt93609449b2.jpg
Palestinian labourers at work in a new housing project on December 2, 2009 in the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev in the West Bank. Israeli settler leaders have vowed to defy a 10-month moratorium on new building in the West Bank which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is meant as a confidence-building gesture to get peace efforts with the Palestinians back on track.

A couple of weeks ago I made a modest proposal for greater transparency in the "marketplace of ideas." The basic idea was that lots of think tanks and media pundits are reluctant to divulge their sources of support in detail, which makes it harder for those who consume their products to decide if it is genuine "analysis" or just something that's been bought and paid for by some well-heeled special interest group. So I suggested that we start rating think tanks and pundits according to their openness, and discount the policy advice offered by anyone who won't tell us who is coughing up the money to support their participation in the war of ideas. This isn't about censorship or abridging free speech; it's just about full disclosure.

Turns out a similar dispute has recently broken out over in Israel. A hawkish research group there, which operates under the seemingly neutral name of "NGO Monitor," has been trying to raise a stink about foreign sources of support for Israeli human rights organizations. In particular, NGO Monitor thinks it is inappropriate for foreign governments to support Israeli organizations that -- horrors! -- dare to criticize certain Israeli policies (mostly stemming from the occupation). The president of the organization, political scientist Gerald Steinberg, laid out the group's concerns in a Ha'aretz op-ed, and together with another hardline group (the Insitute of Zionist Strategies), NGO Monitor organized a Knesset conference on Dec. 1 attended by a number of right-wing MKs.

A couple of weeks ago I made a modest proposal for greater transparency in the “marketplace of ideas.” The basic idea was that lots of think tanks and media pundits are reluctant to divulge their sources of support in detail, which makes it harder for those who consume their products to decide if it is genuine “analysis” or just something that’s been bought and paid for by some well-heeled special interest group. So I suggested that we start rating think tanks and pundits according to their openness, and discount the policy advice offered by anyone who won’t tell us who is coughing up the money to support their participation in the war of ideas. This isn’t about censorship or abridging free speech; it’s just about full disclosure.

Turns out a similar dispute has recently broken out over in Israel. A hawkish research group there, which operates under the seemingly neutral name of “NGO Monitor,” has been trying to raise a stink about foreign sources of support for Israeli human rights organizations. In particular, NGO Monitor thinks it is inappropriate for foreign governments to support Israeli organizations that — horrors! — dare to criticize certain Israeli policies (mostly stemming from the occupation). The president of the organization, political scientist Gerald Steinberg, laid out the group’s concerns in a Ha’aretz op-ed, and together with another hardline group (the Insitute of Zionist Strategies), NGO Monitor organized a Knesset conference on Dec. 1 attended by a number of right-wing MKs.

Writing in response, Israeli peace activist Didi Remez pointed out the hypocrisy in Steinberg’s position. NGO Monitor objects to foreign support for domestic human rights organizations in Israel, but it is studiously silent about the millions of dollars of foreign funding — much of it from the United States and some of it tax-deductible — that is bankrolling the settler movement and helping sustain the occupation. For that matter, Steinberg’s organization doesn’t even reveal its own sources of support. Remez proposes a remedy similar to the one I proposed (albeit in a different context): NGOs in Israel should be required to be totally transparent. Let everyone ‘fess up about where they are getting their money, and let the chips fall where they may. Sounds right to me; I’d love to know who is paying for all these activities. And for a different expose of Steinberg’s hypocrisy, go here. 

David Silverman/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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