Left-wing MKs call to scrap bill aimed at human rights NGOs

C'tee holds first meeting to prepare for second, third (final) reading a bill that would establish disclosure requirements for recipients of financial support from foreign state entities.

By DAN IZENBERG
January 20, 2011 02:21
3 minute read.
NAHMAN SHAI

NAHMAN SHAI. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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If anyone needs to be made transparent by law, it is those who anonymously mount massive advertisement campaigns to influence public opinion on matters like the Sheshinsky recommendations on gas and oil taxation, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) told the Knesset Law Committee on Wednesday.

The committee was holding its first meeting to prepare for second and third (final) reading a bill that would establish disclosure requirements for recipients of financial support from foreign state entities.

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The proposed legislation has triggered an outcry from human rights and left-wing political organizations in Israel and from many European countries, all of which say the bill is anti-democratic and aimed at stifling freedom of expression and criticism of government policy.

According to the bill, any NGO that has an annual turnover of NIS 300,000 per year will record in its financial report all contributions exceeding NIS 20,000, “whether direct or indirect,” from foreign countries.

They must also record the identity of the donor, the amount of the donation, its purpose or who receives the money, and any conditions attached to the donation by the donor.

The bill adds that any NGO with an annual turnover of NIS 300,000 must report quarterly on donations it receives from foreign state entities exceeding NIS 20,000 during the quarter, or, alternatively, that any NGO, no matter what its annual turnover, that received more than NIS 100,000 in any given quarter, must report the donation within a week of the end of the quarter.

Another provision calls on the NGOs to prominently display the information about the donations on their websites.



According to current law, all NGOs must present a financial report once a year that includes a list of the donations they receive from Israel and abroad.

The law does not specify precisely what information the NGOs must provide regarding these donations. Furthermore, it allows the NGOs to declare that a donation was given anonymously under conditions explained in the law.

Left-wing MKs argued that the current legislation was sufficient to keep tabs on the donations that the NGOs receive and that most of them already display their list of donors on their websites. The bill’s real aim was to discredit the human rights organizations in the eyes of the public, they said.

“I am totally against any attempt to single out political NGOs,” Henin told the committee.

“I am all in favor of transparency, but there are already mechanisms in the law for that.

This applies to donations by foreign state entities as well.”

But, he continued, there were issues that were not covered by law.

“For example, there was a campaign against the Sheshinsky recommendations,” he said.

“We should know who was behind it. The bill should apply to anyone who seeks to influence public opinion, whether he is in Israel or abroad.”

MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) warned of the European reaction to the bill. He said that a delegation of 400 pro-Israel parliamentarians would be visiting Israel soon and had wanted to discuss the legislation. Shai added that the bill could also have a negative impact on Israeli government aid programs to Africa and other projects.

MK Haim Oron (Meretz) argued that the bill should include private foreign donors as well as foreign state entities.

“Let’s say we should divulge every shekel that comes from abroad,” Oron said. “I know this is not what the initiators of the bill had in mind. But, after all, we are talking about a law.”

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