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
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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
“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
However, Michaeli vowed that B’Tselem would “not be silenced” by
“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.
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
Human rights NGO Yesh Din was similarly scathing about the
“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
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
“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.
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
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.
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
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.”