Proof is required to back up Israeli allegations against NGOs, says Coveney

Minister insists on first day of visit to Middle East that Irish Aid thoroughly vets organisations it supports

Simon Coveney:  he said there was an onus on Israel to provide evidence to back up its claims that the six organisations its defence minister named have really supported terrorism

Simon Coveney: he said there was an onus on Israel to provide evidence to back up its claims that the six organisations its defence minister named have really supported terrorism

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has demanded proof from Israel of alleged terrorist links to six Palestinian NGOs which were banned by Israel last week after defence minister Benny Gantz claimed that they helped finance the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Two of the civil society organisations, Addameer, which focuses on prisoners’ rights, and the human rights group Al-Haq, are partially funded by Irish Aid.

Mr Coveney, speaking on the first day of his four-day Middle East trip, said the burden of proof was on Israel.

“I believe that NGOs and civil society are an essential part of a democracy even if they are very critical of government policy. We are very robust in terms of ensuring that we know where Irish money is spent, and ensuring that it is not spent inappropriately and certainly in the context of terrorism,” Mr Coveney told a meeting of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem.

“I don’t believe the international community has been given the evidence to show that these six NGOs are contributing to terrorism, and I will continue to ask for that evidence and if it’s there we will act on it.

“If it’s not we will continue to ask tough questions. If you are going to designate these organisations as terrorist then there is a burden of proof that needs to be shown.”

This is Mr Coveney’s fifth trip to Israel in his present role. He has visited Israel more than any other country outside the main EU states, but the last time an Israeli foreign minister visited Dublin was in 2012.

Despite Mr Coveney’s high-octane diplomacy, Ireland is still widely perceived by many Israelis as the most anti-Israeli country in the EU.

“Yes, I suppose it is frustrating,” he told The Irish Times. “We are working hard on building a strong and positive relationship with the new Israeli government – that’s why I’m here. We are looking for a respectable relationship but one that allows for disagreements and to challenge each other.

“We are not taking sides and we will continue our efforts, but that effort sees Palestinian priorities and Israeli priorities in equal terms.”

Mr Coveney’s first meeting in Jerusalem was with president Yitzhak Herzog, whose grandfather, Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, was Ireland’s chief rabbi from 1919 until 1936. He described the meeting as friendly.

“The Herzog family have a strong and deep connection with Ireland. I regard President Herzog as a very significant political figure here in Israel, a very balanced and calming influence and able to provide political stability...”

Communities

On Wednesday Mr Coveney will meet in Jerusalem with Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid.

He then travels the short distance to the West Bank for talks with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and visit Palestinian communities to hear directly about the challenges that they face and how Irish Aid funding is being spent.

He will then visit Jordan to open Ireland’s new Embassy alongside Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi, and meet with refugee communities.