MK Danny Danon (Likud) and Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer debated the pros and cons of proposed bills to limit foreign governments’ funding of political NGOs in the Knesset of Wednesday.
One bill, proposed by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) would limit foreign government’s donations to organizations that sponsor political activity to NIS 20,000. Another, which would levy a 45 percent tax on such contributions, was drafted by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu). Both were approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but have yet to reach the Knesset because the decision was appealed by Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin.
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In an event publicized as an English-language debate for the foreign media, Oppenheimer slammed the bill as undemocratic and limiting freedom of expression and Danon, instead of Akunis who was recuperating from vocal-chord surgery, defended the measure, saying that it prevents unfair intervention by foreign governments in Israeli affairs.
“I don’t think this is a debate over who is defending democracy or fighting democracy,” Danon pointed out. “I consider myself and my party democratic, but when we start dealing with the core issues that we were elected to promote, we are accused of being anti-democratic.”
The Likud MK explained that when his party was in the opposition, it was unable to successfully promote its policies.
“Now that we’re in power, it’s our job to pass laws that defend our
positions,” he said. “When there’s a sensitive issue, the opposition
says ‘no, don’t touch that,’ and I say, yes we can, that’s why we were
According to Danon, ”protocols from the EU show that their money is
being used to influence people in Israel to vote against the Likud.”
“To me, this is not kosher,” he quipped. “However, when a private individual gives money to an organization, it’s kosher.”
Danon said that “none of these bills hurt Yariv Oppenheimer’s ability to
protest, fundraise or vote in an election. Instead of getting money
from European governments, he should go to the public, convince them,
get a majority vote in the next Knesset, and then you will decide the
Oppenheimer, however, argued that “this is not a matter of right-wing policy, it’s about changing the rules of the game.”
“The right wing won the election, and gets to do almost whatever they
want, because they’re the majority,” he said. “You decided to smash the
peace process, build settlements and defend outposts that are meant to
“I think what you’re doing is wrong, but you have the power, because
this is a democracy,” Oppenheimer added. “At the same time, democracy
doesn’t mean that you can use a majority in the Knesset to change the
rules of the game.”
The Peace Now leader opposed Danon’s claim that the majority is simply promoting its policies.
“When the left is in power, they never outlaw basic civilian action, like the ability to boycott,” he pointed out.
“The Likud is only promoting a bill against foreign government donations
in order to delegitimize NGOs and say they’re supporting other
governments,” Oppenheimer stated. “They’re trying to weaken voices in
He added that freedom of speech goes beyond basic expression, but is
also “the ability to run an organization that researches and brings
facts to the public.”
The two also argued about the legitimacy of private donations to
political activity, with Danon saying that it’s a matter of individual
freedom. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, said that private donations
have no transparency, and therefore, are more “dangerous” than those
from foreign governments.
The Likud MK also said the Knesset must decide on a definition of
“political NGO” and “political activity” in its discussion of the bill.
Oppenheimer retorted that “everything is political.”
“When the government decides what is political and which activity is allowed, this is not freedom of speech,” he said.
“These laws aren’t saying that [opposition leader] Tzipi Livni can’t be
elected or Yariv Oppenheimer can’t protests in front of the Likud
offices,” Danon explained. “These are laws that promote my values, which
got me elected.”
“We still have the freedom to vote, to express yourself and to demonstrate,” the Likud MK pointed out.