Justice Minister Tzipi Livni appealed on Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s support for a bill which would declare foreign government donations to anti-Israel NGOs no longer tax-exempt.
Eight ministers from Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Bayit Yehudi approved the bill in the ministerial committee, while Hatnua and Yesh Atid ministers voted against it.
The legislation, proposed by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked and MK Robert Ilatov (Likud Beytenu), amends the Income Tax Law so that NGOs will have to pay 45 percent tax on donations from foreign governments if the organization does one of the following: Calls for IDF soldiers to be brought to international courts, calls for boycotts, divestment of sanctions of the State of Israel or its citizens, incite to racism or support armed battle by an enemy state or terror organization against Israel.
The committee approved the bill after Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar reached an agreement with Shaked and Ilatov that they would make several changes between its preliminary and first readings in the Knesset, and that it would be brought back to the committee.
The changes are that an implied policy of the organization, as opposed to an explicit one, would not count against an organization, nor would actions by members of its board of directors.
In addition, the penalty would not be for NGOs rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Likud Beytenu Deputy Ministers Faina Kirschenbaum and Ofir Akunis submitted similar bills in the previous Knesset.
Shaked and Ilatov explain that the bill is meant to limit foreign entities’ ability to influence Israeli democracy through donations to NGOs that are “outside the Israeli democratic discourse and attempt to harm the basic characteristics of the State of Israel and its sovereignty.”
Livni opposes the bill, calling it populist and unpatriotic. “Israeli patriotism isn’t harming Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It isn’t harming Israel’s international standing and isolating it,” she said.
“MK Shaked’s bill is only pretending to be patriotic, but it is a combination of extremism and populism.”
Livni vowed that “as Justice Minister, I will continue defending the status and strength of the IDF and our values as a Jewish and democratic state from dangerous legislation.”
The Justice Minister also pointed out that the government defends IDF soldiers in international tribunals, which take Israeli policies into consideration.
If this bill passes, she said, it will be seen as undemocratic, and harm Israel’s standings in international courts, making it more difficult to defend IDF soldiers.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On echoed Livni’s sentiments, saying “the government is silencing and killing social organizations that criticize it. The real purpose of this bill is to incite against peace organizations and human rights NGOs, and harm donations to those whose views differ from those of settlers and the Right-wing government.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said ministers’ approval of the bill is “dark, anti-democratic and silences those who dare to think differently.
“The next step is creating a thought police that will make people pay fines for their opinions. Creating a political blacklist is making Israel less and less democratic. Everyone who loves Israel must oppose this bill.”
MK Karin Alharrar (Yesh Atid) called the bill “another fascist proposal disguised as Zionism by the Bayit Yehudi, which has a goal to cancel all democratic characteristics of Israel. Canceling freedom of expression and multiple opinions belongs in dictatorships, not here.”
Shaked, however, denied that the bill harms democracy, saying the opposite is true “In a civilized democracy, there are elections expressing the will of the people and reflecting its values and worldview,” she said.
“It cannot be that an extremist minority that does not think the State of Israel should exist, and tries to undermine it, is working with foreign funding and getting tax benefits. They don’t respect the will of the people.”
Ilatov said the organizations that would be effected by the bill “want to harm Israel’s national and security interests. They have anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish motives, and it is not appropriate for them to receive tax benefits from the State of Israel.”
Still, watchdog organization NGO Monitor, which often comes out against organizations like the ones listed in the bill, said “legislative proposals that go beyond democratic transparency and accountability for these NGOs are ill-advised, not enforceable and damaging to Israel’s vital national interests.”
Rather than passing new bills NGO Monitor called to enforce a law passed in 2011, requiring NGOs’ funding to be fully transparent.
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