What Do you Mean We are Undermining the Government?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011 09:51 Marinus Verweij, ICCO

Last Thursday, ICCO discussed its funding of the news site The Electronic Intifada with Uri Rosenthal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands. It was a tough and straightforward talk, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy.

International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the minister, the publication offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the minister’s view, diametrically opposed to the Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose of these measures is for Israel to comply with International law and human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continues. It is a peaceful and legal way to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. Rosenthal thinks though that ICCO, by supporting this news site, undermines the policy of the Dutch government and threatens with sanctions regarding government grants to ICCO.

Being spoon-fed

This is remarkable for two reasons. First of all, the minister seems to believe that civil society organisations that receive grants from the Dutch government cannot stand up for themselves and have to follow the policy of the sitting government. That is a radical change of Dutch government policy which for the last 45 years allowed civil society organisations to determine their own course.

It is surprising for a minister of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) to criticize a civil society organisation because of its support for a news site that says things that don’t please him. Does the Dutch public broadcasting system need to worry about the financial support it receives from the Dutch government because guests in its program Pauw & Witteman make critical comments on Israel?

Double standards

Moreover, the minister applies double standards. Apparently he completely agrees when we support organisations in Sudan or Congo that stand up for human rights and which call for measures against the national government. But when Palestinian and Israeli organisations call for the same, he feels that he needs to take measures. Doesn’t the minister consider human rights, freedom and democracy to be universal values rather than matters of secondary importance to other considerations of Dutch foreign policy?

A second remarkable statement of the minister is that ICCO undermines Dutch government policy. As said before, since 2005 more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations call for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories. These organisations receive support from Dutch organisations like ICCO but, please note, also directly from the Dutch government itself. Israel has been called upon in many UN-resolutions to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories.


In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared that the separation wall built by Israel is illegal as it is mostly constructed on Palestinian soil in the occupied West Bank. The court called on countries not to render assistance to the construction of the wall. The court further confirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements. This verdict was affirmed by the UN General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/ES-10/15 of 20 July 2004). The Netherlands voted in favour of this resolution.

In spite of the verdict of the court, in spite of many UN resolutions and in spite of numerous alarming reports by human rights organisations, Israel simply continues to build the wall and settlements regardless. Under these circumstances, a viable Palestinian state has become a utopian dream. The only way to temper Israel’s appetite for settlement, to get the country to relent, and to create the conditions for a sustainable and just peace, is by exerting pressure on the Israeli government. For the Palestinian population, for churches and civil society organisations such pressure has become the only remaining option to peacefully express their frustration about Israeli violations of the international law and to persuade Israel to finally change its policies.


The international legal order and international humanitarian law were – until now – the cornerstones of every Dutch foreign policy. The Dutch government is even obliged, according to article 90 of the Constitution of the Netherlands, to promote the development of the international legal order. But also as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the Netherlands is obligated to actively contribute to measures that lead to the protection of civilians in times of war and occupation. It is therefore difficult to understand how our policy, that is focused on enforcing that legal order, is thought to be opposing Dutch foreign policy.

Marinus Verweij is director of ICCO

What Do you Mean We are Undermining the Government?.

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