Left-wing NGOs railed on Wednesday evening against the Knesset’s vote to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to probe foreign funding of Israeli organizations.

The plenum voted 41 to 16 to establish the panel, initially proposed by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), to examine international sources of funding for Israeli organizations that “aid the delegitimization of Israel through harming IDF soldiers.”

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Kirschenbaum’s proposal, together with a proposal by MK Danny Danon (Likud) to establish a similar probe to investigate NGOs’ land purchases in the country, will now be discussed in the House Committee.

T

he committee will delineate the parameters of the probe, and then return the proposal to the Knesset floor for final approval.

Israel Beiteinu issued a statement welcoming the Knesset’s decision.

“The committee is meant to examine the activities and funding for those groups that habitually support terrorist organizations, including open support for Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead,” the statement read.

“It is the right and the obligation of the Israeli public to know that the majority of the false testimonies that were written in the Goldstone Report were handed over by these organizations, the same ones that handed over the names of IDF officers and encouraged legal actions against them, and their representatives have even been wandering for years in Israeli schools and tell the youth to evade military service,” the statement continued.

“These organizations do not really care about the state of human rights, a fact evidenced by the fact that they have never worked for the rights of women in Arab society, nor discussed the status of democracy in Saudi Arabia, a state that itself funds some of these organizations. The entire goal of these organizations is to deter the IDF in its struggle against terrorist organizations and to weaken the determination of soldiers to defend the citizens of Israel, and the Israeli Knesset has the obligation to fight against this,” Israel Beiteinu said.

The vote on the proposal came after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided in August that an inquiry will not be conducted into the activities of the left-wing organizations.

Outside the Knesset, the Im Tirzu – The Second Zionist Revolution organization, which has worked over the past year to publish information on donations to left-wing groups, expressed satisfaction with the vote.

“We congratulate the Knesset on its brave decision to investigate the sources of funding for these organizations,” the university student group said in a statement.

But the Knesset vote also met with impassioned criticism, both inside and outside of the coalition.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) warned that “the establishment of this committee will cause needless diplomatic damage to Israel and to Israel’s image. This is a political proposal that is appropriate for shady regimes, and Israel must not be like them. The use of the excuse of defending IDF soldiers, which is a very important value, to carry out a political witch hunt of the basest and most dangerous kind hurts the deepest soul of Israeli democracy.

“The State of Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, must be a light onto the world in terms of freedom of speech and freedom to express beliefs, and reject proposals that have the scent of McCarthyism,” Herzog said.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) asked the Knesset legal adviser to examine the legal basis for the investigative committee, describing it as a politically motivated body.

“The members of Knesset from the radical Right are trying to use parliamentary tools and the Knesset’s budget to have a political investigation that is suitable for dark regimes, with the goal of silencing legitimate criticism, and in doing so, harming the basic rights of those with different opinions,” he said.

In voting to establish the committee, “the Knesset has far exceeded its authority as a body that oversees the government’s activities.

If the House Committee accepts the proposal, then a red line has been crossed,” Horowitz said.

NGOs quickly responded to the Knesset decision. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and more than a dozen left-leaning NGOs jointly signed a message of solidarity in which they challenged MKs: “You wish to investigate? Go ahead and interrogate all of us. We have nothing to hide. You are invited to read our reports and publications, and we will welcome it if for a change you will answer our questions instead of slandering us time and again. Similar attempts to silence criticism have failed in the past. This attempt will fail too.”

B’Tselem, one of the organizations named in the decision, said, “We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the occupied territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential.”

The organization added that it “is absurd to claim that a committee of inquiry with no real powers can uncover information unknown to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits. The purpose of the inquiry is not to establish the facts; they are well known. B’Tselem’s list of donors is available online. Our financial reports are available at the office of the NGO Registrar, which just recently issued B’Tselem a Certification of Proper Administration.

Therefore, it is clear that the motive behind the investigation is an attempt to hinder our work through smears and incitement.”

Hours after the stormy debate over the proposal on the Knesset floor, Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu complaining that Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon had intentionally misled MKs and the public.

Ayalon, who spoke during the debate in favor of the proposal, said, “This is not something that is just supported – not only are we in favor – but the government is in favor.”

As Ayalon walked from the speaker’s podium, Eitan yelled out that the government had never held an internal debate on the proposal, which its opponents said was first raised by Israel Beiteinu 48 hours before the vote.

“There can be differences of opinion regarding whether the controversial decision to establish a political inquest serves the State of Israel in a positive manner, or causes needless damage – you heard my strong opinion on the subject during the Likud faction meeting,” Eitan wrote to Netanyahu.

“But there is no argument that the government never had a discussion on this subject and did not decide whether to support or oppose the proposal. In any case, Ayalon knowingly misled the Knesset and the public when he said what he did.”

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