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Swedish aid groups deny anti-Israel bias

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17:42 CEST+02:00
Development groups have rejected charges laid out by a Jerusalem-based NGO watchdog accusing Sweden's aid community of sponsoring groups that contribute to the "demonization" of Israel.

The Swedish groups' reactions come in response to a report published earlier this week by Israeli group NGO Monitor focusing on the aid activities of Swedish development organization Diakonia.

Formed in 1966 by an alliance of five Christian churches, Diakonia receives the majority of its funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), a state body that was also singled out for criticism in a June report from NGO Monitor.

"A lot of the groups sponsored by Diakonia and Sida are radical in their nature and rhetoric and do little or nothing to promote peace in the region. If anything, they serve to increase hostility," NGO Monitor spokesman Dan Kosky told The Local.

Funded by the Wechsler Family Foundation and private donors, NGO Monitor's stated goal "is to end the practice used by certain self-declared 'humanitarian NGOs' of exploiting the label 'universal human rights values' to promote politically and ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas."

In its report on Diakonia, NGO Monitor accuses the Swedish humanitarian aid group of sponsoring organizations that are "among the most extreme anti-Israel NGOs operating the region, employing inflammatory and, at times, antisemitic rhetoric."

But Joakim Wohlfeil, Policy Officer at Diakonia, rejected the report as poorly researched and lacking in any real substance.

"We were asked by NGO Monitor to comment on the report and we even took the time to sit down with them. But looking into the report we found the quality of their work to be of a very low standard," Wohlfeil told The Local.

"We haven't seen any reason to engage in a debate that seems to have more to do with general disappointment on behalf of the settler movement than any genuine criticism. They don't differentiate between criticism of illegal settlements and criticism of Israel. All they want is for us to see things from the 'right' perspective."

Wohlfeil said Diakonia made no secret of the fact that it was critical of the occupation of disputed territories.

"But when it comes to groups like NGO Monitor it just seems they're disappointed that the whole world doesn't see things their way. They've never expected much from the Scandinavian countries, but with criticism coming from places like the US and UK, they feel really hemmed in and misunderstood. It's kind of sad really."

Sida was reluctant to be drawn into the specifics of reports from a group it regarded as biased and unreliable.

"We see them as an extreme group that does not accept international regulatory frameworks. As such, Sida does not regard their criticism as worthy of comment," spokeswoman Anette Widholm Bolme told The Local.

Dan Kosky of NGO Monitor stood by his group's reports. Responding to the charge of extremism, Kosky said he did not wish to engage in name-calling with the Swedish aid groups.

"I think our research speaks for itself. It seems that Sida and Diakonia

have failed to respond to the substance of our report. If they really want to play a role in the region they need to seriously reconsider their funding procedures," he said.

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