'NGO legislation is unlikely to pass, but warrants a vote'

Knesset speaker says minority opinions must be heard in democratic country, even if bill is not passed, it must be voted on.

By
December 16, 2011 01:39
2 minute read.
UN Official Frank La Rue and Rvilin

UN Official Frank La Rue and Rvilin _311. (photo credit: Lahav Harkov)

 
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The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank William La Rue, expressed concern on Thursday over a series of recently proposed bills in a meeting with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who defended Israeli democracy and expressed skepticism that the bills would passed.

La Rue specifically criticized the bill that would limit foreign government donations to NGOs, Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, the bill prohibiting loud muezzin calls, and the bill increasing the penalty for libel sixfold – each of which is at a different stage in the legislative process.

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He also mentioned the Anti-Boycott Law, which passed in July.

The UN official explained that his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority was meant to examine use of laws that are supposed to protect national security to “disproportionately” limit freedom of expression and the press. He added that the way to protect national security is by strengthening democracy.

La Rue said that the bills he mentioned were likely to hurt Israel’s image in the international community, and called for a Basic Law protecting freedom of expression.

In response, Rivlin said that the security situation in Israel is much more complex than that in Europe, and that many feel that they must defend the country against threats via legislation. He added that the lack of a constitution often leads politicians to attempt to tip the balance and checks between the branches of government.

The Knesset Speaker explained the reasoning behind the different bills, reassuring La Rue that many of them will not pass.

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“These bills are declaratory, and are not going to become real laws,” Rivlin said. “They’re submitted for political reasons.”

The Knesset speaker added that he does not support many of the bills limiting personal freedoms; however, he will make sure that they undergo a fair legislative process, regardless of whether they are likely to pass or not.

“Democracy is the rule of the majority, but its true responsibility is to allow everyone, especially the minority, to express itself,” Rivlin said. “Israel is a stable democracy, and being a democracy is more important than any of these bills.”

Rivlin and La Rue agreed that the UN official would prepare a report, which would be passed on to MKs.

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