Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has demanded proof from Israel of alleged terrorist links to six Palestinian NGOs which were banned by Israel last week after defence minister Benny Gantz claimed that they helped finance the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Two of the civil society organisations, Addameer, which focuses on prisoners’ rights, and the human rights group Al-Haq, are partially funded by Irish Aid.
Mr Coveney, speaking on the first day of his four-day Middle East trip, said the burden of proof was on Israel.
“I believe that NGOs and civil society are an essential part of a democracy even if they are very critical of government policy. We are very robust in terms of ensuring that we know where Irish money is spent, and ensuring that it is not spent inappropriately and certainly in the context of terrorism,” Mr Coveney told a meeting of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem.
“I don’t believe the international community has been given the evidence to show that these six NGOs are contributing to terrorism, and I will continue to ask for that evidence and if it’s there we will act on it.
“If it’s not we will continue to ask tough questions. If you are going to designate these organisations as terrorist then there is a burden of proof that needs to be shown.”
This is Mr Coveney’s fifth trip to Israel in his present role. He has visited Israel more than any other country outside the main EU states, but the last time an Israeli foreign minister visited Dublin was in 2012.
Despite Mr Coveney’s high-octane diplomacy, Ireland is still widely perceived by many Israelis as the most anti-Israeli country in the EU.
“Yes, I suppose it is frustrating,” he told The Irish Times. “We are working hard on building a strong and positive relationship with the new Israeli government – that’s why I’m here. We are looking for a respectable relationship but one that allows for disagreements and to challenge each other.