Knesset nixes inquiry into NGOs by landslide

ByGIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 20, 2011 23:09

Bills proposing to probe activities, funding of left-wing NGOs turned down; FM calls PM’s behavior "grotesque," views campaign as "success."




The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.

Knesset session 311. (photo credit:Courtesy)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scored a victory over his rival on the Right, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on Wednesday night when the Knesset rejected Israel Beiteinu’s proposal to form a parliamentary inquiry committee to probe non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that target the IDF.

The bill fell short by a large margin – 57 to 28 – due to the opposition of Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin as well as Likud ministers Gideon Sa’ar, Michael Eitan, Dan Meridor, Yuval Steinitz, Moshe Kahlon, and Bennie Begin.



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Only eight Likud MKs voted in favor of the bill, while several faction members were absent.


Vice premier Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), who has been targeted on trips abroad for arrest on war crimes charges by NGOs, decided not to vote even though he was present in the plenum because the bill “lacked teeth” and “would do more harm than good.”

Lieberman expressed outrage at the expected results even before the vote – calling a press conference at the Knesset to express outrage at the way Israel Beiteinu was treated by Likud. He called Netanyahu’s opposition to the bill “grotesque,” especially after the prime minister insisted on coalition discipline last week to pass the Likud-sponsored anti-boycott bill.

“The prime minister and the heads of the coalition didn’t act collegially, and I think that’s not smart,” Lieberman said. “Everyone makes mistakes, and in this case, the prime minister and the heads of the coalition made a mistake.”

Lieberman expressed confidence that the bill sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MK Faina Kirschenbaum would eventually pass and said it would be resubmitted soon. He denied any intention of toppling the government, but said his tolerance would only go so far.

“I am not looking for excuses to destabilize the coalition, but there must be reasonable limits,” Lieberman said. “If I want an excuse to leave [the coalition], there are reasons every day. I hope they don’t put us in a corner.”

Lieberman said he viewed the campaign for the bill as a success, because he succeeded in putting the behavior of leftist NGOs on the public agenda, and because other parties had started submitting legislation that he said copied his own party’s agenda.

Another bill submitted by Likud MK Danny Danon, which would have formed a separate parliamentary committee to probe donations to NGOs from foreign countries, also fell by a 57-28 vote. Danon tried in vain to enlist the support of his faction by reading from documents that he said proved the European Union had funded campaigns calling upon Israelis not to vote Likud.

Kadima called the votes “a victory for sanity over the coalition of Netanyahu.”

Earlier, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told the plenum that Netanyahu’s government had created a “spirit of evil” that was harming the country.

Peace Now issued a statement after the vote saying that stopping the formation of the parliamentary inquiry committees “did not erase the shame Netanyahu earned by backing the anti-boycott bill.”

Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer said the prime minister’s opposition to Wednesday’s bills was only a tactical maneuver to defuse public pressure on him.

The prime minister was also attacked from the Right after the vote by National Union MK Arye Eldad, who said that “Netanyahu’s fear of what the press would say saved undermining leftist NGOs, but did not save himself from the criticism of the left and the media.”

He warned that Netanyahu could be forced out of office by the very organizations he helped survive.

In more than six hours of deliberations at the Knesset, 54 MKs tried in vain to persuade their colleagues of the justice of their point of view. Many MKs used examples from history to support their points of view.

“You are inciting against the human rights organizations in order to cover up your own blunders – just like the Soviets incited against the Jews whenever they wanted to divert the public’s attention!” Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz shouted at Kirschenbaum and other Israel Beiteinu MKs.

“Ms. Kirschenbaum, you won’t be appointed chief inquisitor like the dark days.”

Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem said leftist organizations should have volunteered to be investigated.

“If you have nothing to hide, [then] put everything on the table so everyone will know who is funding you, who tattletales and who lies about IDF soldiers to international bodies, causing IDF soldiers to fear leaving planes in Europe,” Rotem said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report

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