The Knesset’s House Committee delayed until Wednesday a vote on the
establishment of two parliamentary committees of inquiry into NGO funding after
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Inon delivered a scathing legal opinion.
the course of a long and stormy House Committee meeting on Tuesday, Inon calmly
read his unexpectedly sharp criticism of the probes, at the end of which
opposition MKs burst into rare applause.
The establishment of the probes
“is a precedent that raises basic questions that stand at the heart of
democratic rule,” he said.
Inon did say, however, that there was “no
basis to claim that the establishment of the probes was illegitimate on the
basis of narrow interpretations of legality or the Knesset’s authority to do
The legal adviser went on to say that the two committees of inquiry
“target one side of the ideological spectrum that happens to be in the
opposition now,” and that, in doing so, threatened principles regarding the
freedom of expression and freedom to protest.
After Inon’s comments, MK
Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) said that the legal adviser’s statements
were sufficient to warrant the resignations of the probes’ sponsors, MKs Danny
Danon (Likud) and Fania Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu).
Kadima MKs Orit
Zuaretz and Shlomo Molla responded by firing off a missive to Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin, who is known to oppose the establishment of the probes, asking
him to exercise his authority to prevent hearings on the proposals.
among the probes’ supporters, Inon’s opinion was greeted with
“Unfortunately, the legal opinion was based on statements made
in the past by the Knesset speaker, and with all due respect, the topic is
political and not legal,” MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) said.
committee would examine “the involvement of foreign bodies and states in funding
activities against the state and attempting to acquire its land,” and
Kirschenbaum’s would probe “overseas funds and states funding Israeli
organizations that participate in the delegitimization of IDF
The committee discussed appointments to the nine proposed
slots to be filled on each committee of inquiry – two are allotted to Likud, two
for Kadima, one shared by the National Union, Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah
Judaism, one shared by Labor and Meretz, one for Israel Beiteinu, one for Shas,
and one representing the three Arab parties, with the last likely to be filled
on one of the committees by MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) at Tibi’s
“We are boycotting the proceedings, but we were asked who is the
most appropriate candidate for the slot, and that is unquestionably Ben-Ari,”
Nevertheless, after almost three hours of heated debate,
the committee postponed the vote on the probes’ mandates and members until
Earlier in the day, the Knesset Constitution, Law and
Justice Committee discussed a bill that would force NGOs to disclose, on a
quarterly basis, any contributions received from foreign government
The bill, advanced by MKs from Likud, Israel Beiteinu and the
National Union as well as Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, proposes that NGOs be
required to report on the source and size of the contribution as well as the
specific purpose for which the money is dedicated. The bill would also require
that any print campaigns that are funded by foreign governments display the
source of the campaign’s funding.
Israel Beiteinu’s Rotem, who chairs the
committee, backed down on a previous commitment to expand the bill to include
all foreign entities, including private individuals, saying he changed his mind
after learning that the left-wing MKs planned to use the bill to investigate
funding sources for groups like Ateret Cohanim and Elad, which support Jewish
The bill was sharply criticized by left-wing MKs, who claimed
its sole purpose was to single out and delegitimize left-wing organizations that
were critical of government policies.
MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) said the
bill, if it became law, would legitimize violence against leftwing
Debbie Gild-Hayo of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
described the legislation as selective and politically motivated, and urged the
committee either to reject it or to expand it to include donations received from
any foreign entity, including private donors. The bill currently covers
only donations from government sources.
“We are in favor of transparency,
but transparency is not the purpose of this bill, rather it’s all about
political persecution. We publish all our donations on our website and anybody
can look it up with the Corporations Authority. So far nobody has been able to
explain how this bill in any way changes the existing situation,” Gild-Hayo
She said that while NGOs received relatively modest donations from
foreign governments, organizations on the Right received millions from anonymous
donors, and no one was taking them to task or accusing them of serving foreign
Ronen Shuval, CEO of Im Tirtzu – The Second Zionist
Revolution, a student organization closely associated with the push to examine
the funding of left-wing NGOs, said there is a concrete difference between money
received from foreign governments and those received from foreign individuals,
because the former undermined Israeli democracy.
“We are not asking
anybody to board a ship to Gaza or to badmouth IDF soldiers. All we’re asking
for is transparency,” Shuval said. “We think that this bill is too watered down
but that it’s a good start.”
Shuval refused to answer cries from
left-wing MKs asking him who funded Im Tirtzu’s activities.
MK Haim Oron
(Meretz) blasted representatives of academia and of NGOs that are subsidiaries
of national institutions like the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund,
for what he described as moral cowardice. The groups, which asked to be
exempted from the bill, said their ability to operate and conduct research would
be harmed if they were forced to disclose foreign funding sources.
you realize that you’ll be next?” challenged Oron. “It’s only a matter of time
until people start challenging research you conduct in your institutions because
it’s deemed to be political.”
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said that if passed,
the bill would hinder the ability of Israeli and Jewish organizations to operate
abroad, claiming that many Israeli groups operated in foreign countries with the
aid of government grants.