On March 30, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorf, the head of the EU Representative Office to the West Bank and Gaza, sent a letter regarding the EU-funded contracts to an umbrella organization of 135 Palestinian NGOs, in which he stated that individuals with links to EU-designated terrorist organizations can apply for EU funding.
These are exactly the terms he used in his ‘’clarification letter’’: ‘’It is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups or entities mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname corresponds to any of the natural person on the EU restrictive lists.’’ The letter continued: ‘’As far as Palestine is concerned, tere are no Palestinian natural person on the restrictive measures list, pursuant to Council Regulation 2580/2001.’’
This ‘’clarification letter’’ from the EU Representative implied that, even if a Palestinian NGO applying for EU grants is an affiliate of EU-designated terrorist groups (like Hamas, Jihad Islamic or PFLP for example) or employs individuals from these groups, the EU will still provie the organization with funds and legitimacy.
It means that despite an anti-terror clause in EU funded contracts, these funds are being abused by those who support and endorse terrorism.
The letter by Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, a German career diplomat who was named at his post last year by former EU foreign affairs chief Federic Mogherini, speaked a furor in Israel and reactions from Jewish groups. The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs issued a report titled ‘Bloodf Money’ showing that Sameer Arbeed, the leader of a terrorist cell which carried out the bombing that killed 16-yar-old Israeli Rina Shnerb last year, was the accountant of Addameer, a Palestinian NGO whichh received funds from European governments and has close ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Other Palestinian NGOs with ties to terrorist groups, such as Al Haq or the Palestinian Center for Human Rights have received funds directly from the European Commission.
Tzahi Gavrieli, Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, described what he called the ‘’laundering scheme’’ used by these Palestinian NGOs to re-brand terrorists as NGO ‘’human rights activists’’ and access either to EU or member states funding.
When asked by journalists during a zoom press briefing organized by Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA) if EU taxpayers money is being used for terror groups, Gavrieli replied: ‘’I cannot answer this clearly, however there are clearly direct links between members of those NGOs and terrorism.’’
Did the reactions from Israel -where the EU ambassador was summoned to a meeting at the foreign ministry- and Jewish groups led to Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff being reprimanded by Brussels following the action of European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargment, Oliver Varhelyi from Hungary ?
The Commissioner told the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee that he had asked the heads of the EU delegations both in Tel Aviv and the West Bank and Gaza ‘’to look into the matter.’’ ‘’They will have to look deep and if there is any concern, we will act immediately,’’ he added. ‘’As long as there are EU funds, this cannot happen, this will not be tolerated and if it happens, it will have to be rectified and I will see yo it myself that it is done and delivered.’’
The Commissioner apparently did ask to investigate the matter. ‘’I would not use ther word investigation since we are not the prosecutor’s office but we have been conducting a review,’’ said Macej Popowski, Deputy Director General of the Commissioner’s directorate, during the same press briefing.
”On the question of the letter (of Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff), we have clarified things. It was a matter of misunderstanding of a particular issue which doesn’t change our normal stance on this issue. Anyone who has been convicted of terrorist offenses is not eligible for EU funds and that regardless of the listing of the organization. It’s about individuals and I want to be very clear on that,’’ he said. ‘’I think we can put this issue behind us.’’
Popowski stressed that ”we have a commitment to fight against terrorism and it has never been stronger.”
He stressed that ”we have very specific clauses in grant agreements obliging people managing grants to fully respect EU legislatoion. There is a careful screening and vetting of the recipients so there is no availability of funds directly or indirectly to terror groups.”
”If there is any evidence of participation in such activities, then reimbursement of the funds is required,” he added.
The EU Commissioner has discussed the issue during a phone conversation last week with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi who in a tweet thanked him for ‘’a good and productive conversation.’’