The Israeli government have committed to investing 100 million shekels, the equivalent of $30 million to revive a government-funded, “non-governmental organisation” called Concert, formerly Kela Shlomo, which was set up in 2015 to undermine the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and oppose anti-Israeli discourse. Concert will covertly fund pro-Israel information campaigns in the US and other Western countries to “strengthen efforts to create a positive perception of the State of Israel in the international arena”.
Essentially, Concert will pay pro-Israel organisations and “influencers” to spread propaganda online in order to whitewash Israel’s human rights violations, water down the international condemnation of its war crimes and convince the United Nations not to say “apartheid”, all while hiding the fact that they are funded by the Israeli government.
Kela Shlomo, or ‘Solomon’s Sling’, originally operated within the secretive Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a Ministry within the Israeli government that was primarily tasked with countering the BDS movement. In 2016 an Al Jazeera investigation uncovered that the Ministry had been spying on US citizens, targeting BDS activists and launching smear campaigns against them. The investigation was was set to be released as a four-part documentary in 2017 but was subdued by the Qatari government after Israeli lobbying efforts. In 2018 it was released by Electronic Intifada.
In the documentary Sima Vaknin-Gil, who was at the time the Director General of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs is recorded saying “We are working on foreign soil and we have to be very cautious, we have three different campaigns which are very sensitive regarding data gathering, information analysis, working on activist organisations, money trails, which only a country with its resources can do…. If you want to win a campaign your actions must be as vague as possible. Just as I worked on military cases as an intelligence officer.”
In an article published by the Times of Israel in 2016 , Yossi Kuperwasser who was Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs, would not deny that Kela Shlomo was involved with Israel Cyber Shield, an organisation that in 2018 spied on prominent Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour as well as her family, producing a dossier for the propaganda app Act.Il which included medical information and legal history, as a means to discredit her and block her from speaking on U.S. campuses.
In 2017, as awareness of the Ministry’s covert anti-BDS operations began to grow, the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill that would exempt the Ministry from the Freedom of Information Act. The same year, when articles about Kela Shlomo began to be published by Western media, the project would rebrand as ‘Concert’ – now any internet search of the project will bring up articles about the ongoing debate surrounding BDS within the music industry and artists such as Nick Cave or Will.i.am, who have spoken against boycotting Israel.
Funding and donors
Kela Shlomo aimed to implement government policy through a budget that comprised of both revenue from the Israeli government as well as private donors. When Kela Shlomo was first launched in 2015, it was given an initial funding commitment of $80 million from the Israeli government, but this was contingent on the project matching the amount from external funds. An investigation by The Seventh Eye revealed that in 2017 Kela Shlomo received around $40 million from the The Central Fund for Israel (CFI), an American non-profit organisation that uses its tax exempt status to funnel millions in donations to settlement projects and right-wing nationalist organisations in Israel, such as the Israel Land Fund, which according to The intercept received around $720,000 from CFI and “assisted in the eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah in 2017”.
CFI has also given funds to ‘Women in Green’, which provides economic support to Israeli nationalists convicted of committing hate crimes and acts of terrorism against Palestinians, which include convicted murderer Ami Popper who killed seven Palestinians in an shooting spree in 1990, Zvi Stroke who was convicted with the abduction and abuse of a Palestinian boy, as well as members of the Bat-Ein underground, a terrorist group who committed drive-by shootings and have attempted to bomb Mosques and Palestinian schools.
Along with another of Kela Shlomo’s American donors, ‘One Israel Fund’, CFI has provided millions in funding to an organisation called Im Tirtzu or the ‘If You Will’ organisation, which is known for its media incitement campaigns against New Israel Fund – an American initiative that supports organisations providing relief for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel as well as its attempts to block funding for universities it perceives to be left-leaving. In 2011, in the run up to Nakba day, Im Tirtzu launched a campaign at Tel Aviv University alongside a 70-page booklet titled “Nakba Nonsense”, in which it states that the 1948 Palestinian exodus was “a lie that threatens to drown us like a tsunami”.
Ultimately, Kela Shlomo failed to reach its funding goals and struggled to find donors – many of their recipients had concerns about becoming “foreign agents”, as US law requires any organisation or person promoting foreign policy to register on a ‘foreign agents database’ and declare it publicly so they can be held to account for their activities.
The project was all but abandoned last year, when the Ministry of Strategic Affairs was axed and its responsibilities passed to the Foreign Ministry and its minister Yair Lapid. After the formation of the new government, the new director general announced they would be addressing the issue of transparency surrounding the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and would hand over all documents relating to the activities of Kela Shlomo. Some of the information funding recipients of the project was destroyed before it could be recovered but in 2020, The Seventh Eye reported that sources within the ministry had revealed the details of several organisations that received funds from Kela Shlomo.
Our Soldiers Speak (OSS), which is now now the MirYam Institute, flew retired high-ranking officers from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to lecture about IDF operations on United States campuses. According to its website, OSS ‘lecturers’ have spoken at 450 college campuses across the U.S. Its website also states that “in addition to campus presentations, OSS lecturers presented policy briefings to legislators in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and to policy and legislative staffers on Capitol Hill during the course of their exclusive lecture tours.”
Similarly, an organisation funded by Kela Shlomo called ‘Reservists on Duty’ flies 100 Israeli reservist soldiers to speak on U.S. campuses and promote pro-Israel propaganda during Israel Apartheid Week as part of the organisation’s main project the “Gideon Group”.
Part of Kela Shlomo’s funds were also transferred to a brother organisation ‘Keshet David’ or ‘The Arc of David’, which exists solely to monitor and map out BDS discourse online through data mining and data mapping. By “outsourcing” work that the Israeli government should have been doing themselves to government funded “non-governmental organisations”, they were able to avoid accountability and any scrutiny of their activities.
In a petition submitted in 2018 by anti-corruption activist and attorney Shachar Ben Meir, which challenged the legality of Kela Shlomo’s activities, Seventh Eye reported Meir as stating, “The ministry [of Strategic Affairs] not only is ‘aided’ by private organizations in carrying out in its activities, but also transfers much of its power – draconian powers to surveil, spy on, and spread propaganda – to private organizations that are not directly accountable to the government… The ministry itself carries out radical activities that are likely unfitting of a democracy, such as espionage and propaganda, and is even transferring [the ability to carry out] these radical activities to private bodies.”
UN Human Rights Committee of Inquiry
Concert’s website describes its renewed areas of interest as ‘promoting the idea of normalisation, countering boycotts and advancing discourse with international institutions and organizations’ and states that “In past years, BDS and delegitimization organizations have been promoting anti-Israel activities in the international arena, such as the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council. We believe that it is important to present the Israeli narrative to these institutions and organizations, and to encourage activities and discourse that strengthen a positive perception of Israel.”
In March 2021, the UN Human Rights Council established its first ever open-ended committee of inquiry, days after an onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the deaths of fourteen Israelis and over 260 Palestinians. The committee of inquiry is mandated with investigating ”alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021”.
Amnesty International’s report, titled ‘Israeli’s Apartheid against Palestinians’, will form part of the key material for the inquiry and in a report sent to the committee of inquiry in February The International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School joined the international community in recognising that “Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank are in breach of the prohibition of apartheid and amount to the crime of apartheid under international law.”
Four days after Israeli parliament voted to revive Concert, Amir Weissbrod, the head of the division for international organisations, sent a Telegram that was obtained and published by Walla! News, which says that dealing with the commission of inquiry is a “top priority” for the Foreign Ministry in regards to the UN: “The main goal is to delegitimize the committee, its members and products… To prevent or delay further decisions.” The Telegram also alleges that the term “apartheid” will be included within the UN’s report.
17 February, in a letter addressed to the committee’s chair Navanethem Pillay, and signed by Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Israel formally announced its non-compliance with the commission and accused it of being unfairly biased against Israel. Three days prior, the American-Israeli funded organisation UN Watch, published a 30-page complaint against Navanethem Pillay, calling for her to be removed from her role because she referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” in 2017. Navanethem Pillay is retired a South African judge, an expert on international criminal law and human rights, whose work was fundamental in securing the rights of those living under apartheid in South Africa.
Pro-Israel publications such as The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel – which have both been paid by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs for anti-BDS articles – have published multiple articles to try and undermine the inquiry and smear Navi Pillay, while fellow commissioner Miloon Kothari, has come under fire for acknowledging “the practice of ethnic cleansing and expulsion of land-based people and communities, as has historically been the case in Palestine,” and “Israel’s long record of… implantation of settlers prior to and since its establishment as a State.”
Israel’s previous attempts to undermine the UN have had some success in the past – in 2011, following the publication of the Goldstone report, which was a UN inquiry into Israel’s attack on Gaza in December 2008, Judge Richard Goldstone said that he had regrets about the report and had concerns that it was inaccurate. The Goldstone report accused both Hamas as well as Israel of war crimes and urged each side to investigate their own actions. In the aftermath of the report Goldstone was accused of “blood libel” by pro-Israel supporters.
Israeli officials are reportedly concerned about the repercussions should the UN report refer to Israel as an “apartheid state”, namely the damage this will cause to Israel’s reputation and its image in the eyes of Western democracies. As international recognition of Israel’s crimes of apartheid begins to grow, its government is desperate to assert its position that referring to its occupation as one of apartheid is a sign of bias or prejudice rather than recognition of the fact. The UN committee of inquiry will report in June.