I would like to ask MK Ayelet Shaked and all proponents of laws that seek to brand Israeli entities that receive foreign funding as foreign agents if those proposed laws will also apply to the Israeli government, the IDF, Israeli universities, and hospitals, or only to peace and human rights organizations? Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance.
Since World War II, the US has given Israel $121 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in aid. Will the government of Israel be required to disclose its status as a foreign agent? Will the IDF note on its website that a major portion of its budget derives from US foreign aid? Will Israel’s universities and hospitals be declared foreign agents carrying out the agenda of their foreign benefactors? Will Israel’s yeshivot with foreign support be stripped of their non-profit status? Will settler organizations that accept foreign donations be branded foreign agents? Or will the laws only apply to organizations whose agenda the laws’ advocates disagree with? Do the advocates of such bills realize that most of Israel’s educational, cultural, scientific, medical and welfare institutions accept foreign funding? Will the bills’ authors tax and revoke the non-profit status of Israel’s entire civil society in order to harm a small number of organizations whose agendas they disagree with? These advocates seem to operate under the assumption that peace and human rights are a foreign, and not Israeli, agenda.
It is a sad statement on Israeli democracy that peace and human rights are considered foreign interference. Aren’t peace and human rights a legitimate Israeli aspiration? Or do the authors of such bills intend to legislate the only “acceptable,” “Israeli” agenda, namely unquestioning obedience to government policy, whatever that may be? Don’t these individuals respect their fellow citizens’ right to free expression? The proponents of such bills fail to recognize that the organizations that these proposed laws seek to criminalize are completely Israeli, run by Israelis who seek to protect the integrity of their own society and influence its policies by promoting transparency and accountability with regard to their own government and tax money. This is no foreign agenda. This is an organic Israeli agenda. This is the Israeli public’s right to know about their governments actions, to conduct free and open debate on government policy, to have their opinions heard and to influence public policy. It is the very essence of democracy.
The authors of these bills are gravely misinformed. Their claim that peace and human rights organizations refuse transparency and accountability is simply false. Organizations such as Machsom- Watch-Women’s Fund for Human Rights, B’tselem, Peace Now and the many others targeted by this kind of legislation operate lawfully and hold certification from the Interior Ministry. They uphold all reporting and disclosure requirements.
They submit an audited financial report to the NGO registrar within the Interior Ministry, which is available for the public and lists all income and expenditures, including disclosure of foreign funding over 20,000 NIS, and most voluntarily list their funders on their websites.
They are by no means solely supported by foreign entities, but enjoy support from Israeli, Jewish and non-Jewish supporters around the world, including but by no means primarily foreign governments.
To portray them as exclusively supported by foreign entities or as advancing foreign interests is a gross distortion of the truth.
Ironically, it is the very organizations that seek transparency and accountability from their own government that are being branded as traitors and foreign agents by the self-proclaimed guardians of Israeli democracy, who seek to silence legitimate debate on Israel’s future among Israel’s citizenry through anti-democratic legislation such as the bill presented by MK Shaked. I ask, who is afraid of transparency and accountability? The answer is not peace and human rights organizations, which embody those traits. It’s our government, which attempt to silence those of its own citizens that seek to stimulate public debate on the choices made by our leaders.
The author is a human rights activist and a writer for MachsomWatch-Women’s Fund for Human Rights.