A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed a compromise to deflect criticism of the proposed parliamentary committee of inquiry on left-wing NGOs, members of both opposition and coalition parties continued to speak out against the planned probe.
During a tour of Gush Etzion, opposition leader Tzipi Livni described Netanyahu’s compromise that the investigation would also probe right-wing organizations as “a strange compromise to a twisted subject.”
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“It represents a moral failure by a prime minister that does not understand how problematic it is that a Knesset committee is deciding to investigate citizens of the State of Israel, and it does not matter if this involves people from the Left or the Right,” Livni said.
The opposition leader reiterated her faction’s complaint that Netanyahu refrains from making difficult decisions.
“If the prime minister, as usual, is trying to reconcile rather than to decide, then that is an ethical and moral mistake,” she added.
Livni said that she herself is opposed to the fact that there are organizations and citizens who contribute to the process of delegitimizing Israel.
The Likud responded that some of those who supported the proposal to set up a probe committee came from within Kadima.
“Once it became clear that some members of her [Livni’s] party voted for the commission of inquiry, she chose a method of ‘closed mouths,’ which characterizes her party [as one] that does not have an agenda,” a party-issued statement read.
Livni, however, was not alone in criticizing the planned probe. Following the Sunday morning cabinet meeting, Welfare and Social Services Minister Yitzhak Herzog said that “unfortunately, Netanyahu is missing the point. The Knesset can not be an investigative body because it goes against its foundations.”
Herzog added that he has asked President Shimon Peres to get involved in the issue because “he is part of the consensus and can lead the campaign against racism, incitement, and infringement of democracy.”
He also criticized Kadima’s relatively newfound interest in the issue, accusing them of being absent over the past year and not having taken part in votes on the issue.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, however, defended the inquiry initiative that has been spearheaded by fellow Israel Beiteinu member Fania Kirschenbaum.
“How can NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that are getting money from governments continue to be considered NGOs? The whole concept of NGOs is that there is no governmental involvement,” he said in comments to The Jerusalem Post
editorial board on Sunday.
“If these organizations are not NGOs, should they benefit from all the tax shelters granted to NGOs? This is what we are trying to do, and I think this is a very legitimate issue for public discourse,” he added.
“But we see what is happening now, the NGOs are not talking about the issue. They are attacking Israel Beiteinu, in the most biased, almost racist ways – by talking about Russians, totalitarianism, Putinism. Had these attacks been aimed at any other sector, it would have been judged downright racism.”
Ayalon said that he condemned advertisements sponsored last year by Im Tirtzu in which New Israel Fund director Naomi Chazan was depicted with horns, but complained that “while all of those organizations from the Left were shouting ‘incitement, incitement, incitement,’ at the same time there was a big exhibition in Tel Aviv depicting [Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor] Lieberman with four horns, as a pig and all that, and when we asked questions, they said this is free speech, free expression, artistic.
“There is a double standard here, in which anything that is raised by Israel Beiteinu is dubbed racist, fascist and undemocratic, and anything coming out of the extreme Left is enlightened, is human rights, is democratic, is humane.
“Political correctness can just damage us all,” warned Ayalon.
Also on Sunday, Netanyahu told Likud ministers that the party’s Knesset faction would hold a discussion on the NGO probe during their upcoming faction meeting Monday.
The Knesset House Committee, which is chaired by Likud MK Yariv Levin, is expected to hold a hearing and vote on the plan in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, a bill nicknamed the “New Israel Fund” bill will be
brought before the Israel Beiteinu-controlled Law and Constitution
Committee for its second and third votes en route to the plenum floor.
The legislation would place strict restrictions on organizations
receiving funding from foreign governments. Although many left-wing
organizations receive funds from overseas regimes, rightwing
organizations tend to be funded by individuals and non-governmental
bodies. The bill, which is co-sponsored by committee chairman David
Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and MKs Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), Avraham Michaeli
(Shas), and Otniel Schneller (Kadima), was first filed in 2010. With
broad support within the committee, the bill’s sort-term future seems
bright, although its fate in the Knesset plenum is less certain.Gil Hoffman, Yoni Cohen, and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.