The European Union is assessing its funding for a civil liberties project, the Freedom Protection Council, but has not yet reached a decision on the matter, an EU spokeswoman told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau said that the EU had acceded to his requests to halt the funding for the council, a consortium of civil society groups, saying in a statement that the council "undermines Israel's right to exist and acts to defame it internationally."
"The EU is examining possible breaches of contractual obligations by the beneficiary of EU funds in Israel for a project called the Freedom Protection Council," the European Union spokeswoman said. "We will take further steps on the basis of the assessment."
In Wednesday's remarks, the EU spokeswoman stressed that the decision is for the "EU to take, and for the EU alone." She added that "the EU remains firmly committed to protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association," as well as "support [for] civil society organizations which play an essential role in any democratic society."
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Haaretz has learned that the controversy over EU funding for the council follows a letter that the council sent to Knesset members in advance of the passage last month of the controversial nation-state basic law. The letter was sent on stationery bearing the EU logo but without a statement that the EU requires under such circumstances indicating that the document was not produced on behalf of the European Union and instead was simply sent by an organization receiving EU funding.
It is that breach of the rules, which gave the impression that the letter had been written on behalf of the EU, that European officials are now looking into after the EU was contacted on the matter by the Israeli embassy in Brussels.
Senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz on Tuesday that the Israeli embassy in Brussels had received an official notice of the funding halt following the inquiry from the embassy on the issue. A senior Israeli official insisted that the EU's response on the cutoff of funding was unequiivocal.
Some left-wing organizations that are members of the umbrella group said a halt to EU funding would not substantially affect their ongoing operations, adding that EU funding has been allocated until next year in any event. The director of Ilam, Holod Massalha, said the matter is being looked into.
Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday that "this is just the beginning. We will continue to act with determination against organizations that work to delegitimize the State of Israel and seek to defame it and the Israel Defense Forces internationally."
The Freedom Protection Council, which was founded last year by Ilam – the Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research – consists of some 20 Jewish and Arab NGOs, including B’Tselem, Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Mossawa Center.
Right-wing groups have attacked the council over the past year. The Facebook page of the right-wing group Ad Kan wrote last month that the council works “against Israel’s character as a Jewish a democratic state” and that it “openly interferes in Israeli domestic politics.”