Immediately after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation’s vote in favor of  two bills limiting foreign governments' donations to NGOs on Sunday, civil rights groups and leftwing NGOs – who stand to see a substantial cut in funding – were unanimous in attacking the decision.

The New Israel Fund slammed the committee’s vote to pass the bill as a “shameful moment in the history of Israeli democracy” and called on Knesset members to “vote against the bill and remove this black stain from the face of Israel.”

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In a scathing statement, Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, accused the government of seeking to undermine Israel’s democracy.

“The current government is leading an assault on the foundations of democracy,” said El-Ad, adding that the Ministerial Committee had been expected to vote on two bills on Sunday, including proposed legislation to change the way Supreme Court justices are elected.

“The Supreme Court’s very independence was endangered today, as are the freedom of operations for human rights organizations.

But even further, the government insists on attacking freedom of expression and the rights of Arab citizens,” El-Ad continued, saying that ACRI vowed “in the face of this attack to continue to fight for human rights.”

“We are steadfast in our opposition to Knesset legislation aimed at derailing Israeli democracy,” he added.

Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for human rights NGO B’Tselem, which operates in Israel and the Palestinian territories, also blasted the bill, accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “degrading the international position of Israel.”

However, Michaeli vowed that B’Tselem would “not be silenced” by the legislation.

“B’Tselem will be silent only when Israel stops violating human rights in the occupied territories,” said Michaeli. “Until then, we will continue to expose the injustices of the occupation.

Every country needs democratic and human rights groups, and B’Tselem’s activity contributes to a more just Israeli society.”

Peace Now Director Yariv Oppenheimer attacked the Ministerial Committee’s approval of the bill as “worse and more dangerous than the ‘price-tag’ attacks,” referring to the acts of vandalism by right-wing groups and individuals against Palestinian property in the West Bank.

“The government is trying to stifle the law and does not care about the position of the attorney-general, who determined that the proposed law is unconstitutional,” said Oppenheimer. “Israeli democracy has been surrendered to right-wing extremists and is in a state of bankruptcy.”

Human rights NGO Yesh Din was similarly scathing about the bill’s approval.

“Accepting donations from foreign countries is not wrong,” said the NGO’s spokeswoman, Hila Aloni, in a statement. “Human rights in the occupied territories is not an ‘internal Israeli matter,’ no more than Iran’s nuclear policy is an ‘internal Iranian matter.’” On the Right, in contrast, NGOs welcomed the Ministerial Committee’s approval of the bill.

Nachi Eyal, director of legal advocacy NGO the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which describes itself as being “tasked with protecting human rights and ensuring sound government,” said legislation to prevent foreign donations would “protect Israelis and Israeli democracy from those seeking to do them evil.”

“The involvement of foreign countries in Israel’s internal affairs is undermining democracy, and is a fifth column for political purposes and to influence the public,” said Eyal.

Extra-parliamentary Zionist advocacy group NGO Im Tirtzu said in response to the bill that “the time has come for the Knesset to put a stop to foreign political donations,” while NGO Regavim, whose stated aim is to “preserve the lands of Israel for the Jewish people,” said the bill would make NGO funding “more fair and equal.”

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor, which analyzes NGO activity, including funding, told the The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the bill highlighted an important domestic political issue – that of Israelis’ concerns over NGO funding.

“MKs, especially on the Right, see this as a significant issue for the Israeli public,” said Steinberg, who added that the problem lies with “secretive” European government funding to NGOs in Israel.

“We’re not just talking about groups like Peace Now, but also other NGOs that say Israel is an apartheid state or that Israelis are war criminals,” said Steinberg. “If European governments provided transparency over their funding instead of conducting it in a secretive way, it would be far less of an intense issue for Israelis.”

However, Steinberg added that he expected there to be “significant legislative changes” to the bill before it passed into law. “The concept was approved, but not the details.”

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