Netanyahu Government Pressured Germany to Defund Israeli Media, Rights Groups: Report

Benjamin Netanyahu, Angela Merkel Germany Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on on October 4. Netanyahu’s government has now been accused of pressuring Germany to defund a range of human rights and media organizations. Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The Israeli government has been pressuring Germany to defund a selection of human rights organizations operating in Israel, claiming they do not represent the country's best interests.

According to a report from the progressive German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, two political foundations—Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—were the targets of the campaign. Both fund organizations critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Related: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife should be indicted for bribery and corruption, Israeli police say

Die Tageszeitung's report cited a leaked seven-page letter that the newspaper claimed was sent to the German government by an unspecified Israeli government ministry. It reportedly urged the German government to "fundamentally rethink" its support for organizations including Coalition of Women for Peace—a feminist peace activist group—Breaking the Silence—an organization that works with Israel Defense Forces veterans and details abuses by the armed forces—human rights organization B'Tselem, and the left-leaning +972 magazine.

The letter said the NGOs had attempted to intervene in Israel's internal affairs and had been promoting anti-Israel activities.

The Heinrich Böll Stiftung told the newspaper that the Israeli government's allegations were false. "Unfortunately, we have been seeing for some time that the pressure on NGOs critical of certain policies of the Israeli government is increasing," a spokesperson for the foundation told Die Tageszeitung.

The German government refused to confirm or deny whether the letter came directly from the Israeli government, though Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs denied sending it.

A spokesman for the German government told the newspaper they had an exchange with the Israeli government on supporting nongovernmental organizations.

The online site +972 said it has independently verified the report, and noted it was specifically mentioned in the Israeli government's letter because "the authors regularly accuse Israel of apartheid."

The letter also accused the Jewish Museum in Berlin of engaging in "anti-Israel activities" and criticized German funding for films by supposed supporters of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a pro-Palestinian activist movement.

Netanyahu's administration, +972 said, "has been working to curtail and eliminate critical voices within Israeli society in recent years, particularly those fighting to end the occupation and expose human rights violations against Palestinians and marginalized communities."

"We at +972 Magazine have never believed that the Israeli government was a supporter of our work, and we will continue to conduct fierce, independent journalism determined to end the occupation and advance human rights and democratic values in Israel-Palestine," the magazine declared.

"Knowing once and for all that the Israeli government would rather we not exist only makes us more determined to carry out that mission."

Netanyahu is a savvy media operator and recognizes the power of public relations. But when he has failed to influence the narrative through his public image he has sought more direct methods of control.

He has been accused of bribery to secure favorable media coverage, and one of the most serious allegations revolves around a supposed deal to give the Bezeq telecom company special treatment in return for favorable news coverage.