Israel to clamp down on foreign funding of NGOs

The Knesset is planning on steps to limit "the involvement of foreign governments in the funding of political organizations and activities to harm IDF soldiers."

October 15, 2017 19:59
3 minute read.
Israel to clamp down on foreign funding of NGOs

An Israeli soldier stands between an Israeli settler (L) and visitors on a tour held by leftwing NGO "Breaking the Silence" in the West Bank city of Hebron April 19, 2017. Picture taken April 19, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The government coalition has unanimously agreed to further limit the funding by foreign governments of political non-governmental organizations in Israel.

A two-pronged attack was agreed upon, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support, in a meeting of coalition party leaders involving legislation and a parliamentary commission of inquiry into “the involvement of foreign governments in the funding of political organizations and activities to harm IDF soldiers,” according to a coalition spokesman.

Speaking at a conference held for Christian media outlets in Jerusalem on Sunday evening at the Israel Museum, Netanyahu further explained the decision to crack down on the funding of NGOs that are perceived as anti-IDF. "There is no army that is more moral than the IDF, it's a fact, and that's why we made an important decision today to set up a parliamentary inquiry committee that would check the subject of funding by foreign countries for organizations that act against IDF soldiers."

"We will put an end to it," the premier stressed. "Our soldiers keep us safe and we will keep them safe."

In recent years, the Right has come out against NGOs that testify against Israel and accuse the IDF of war crimes abroad, including before international organizations. Two of the most popular targets are Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from IDF veterans claiming war crimes, and B’Tselem, “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.”

In July 2016, the Knesset passed a law requiring any nonprofit organization that receives more than half of its funding from a foreign political entity to indicate as such in any publication or letter to elected officials or civil servants. In addition, a list of the NGOs falling under the bill’s purview, as well as the countries from which they received donations, must be posted on the Non-Profit Registrar’s website.

The vast majority of organizations that would fall under the law’s purview – 25 of 27 NGOs listed by the Justice Ministry at the time – are left-wing.

During the coalition leaders’ meeting, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the minister connecting the cabinet and the Knesset, suggested that a law be passed “that isn’t full of loopholes and doesn’t let the NGOs hide behind the claim of being human rights activists,” a source in the meeting said.

The legislation’s goal is to prevent other countries from intervening in internal political processes by donating to political organizations. Netanyahu said the bill should focus on foreign government funding.

Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) proposed that a parliamentary commission of inquiry look into the matter to “put the subject on the agenda and to embarrass centrist parties” such as Yesh Atid, whose leader Yair Lapid has spoken sharply against NGOs he described as harming IDF soldiers, but who would hesitate to cooperate with the coalition.

Shas leader Arye Deri and MK Moshe Gafni, one of United Torah Judaism’s leaders, enthusiastically backed the proposal, the source said.

Both proposals are expected to be brought to a vote in the Knesset during its winter session, which begins next week.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg called for expanding the commission of inquiry to look into the sources of right-wing NGOs’ funding, as well.

“The part investigating the funding of left-wing NGOs will be simple: Go on the websites of any of the organizations or the Non-Profits Registrar’s website, download the full list of donors, and you’re done,” she stated. “The part examining right-wing organizations’ funding will be much more important and interesting. We’d be happy to know, for example, why so many right-wing and settler organizations receive confidentiality for their donors.

“We’d be happy to research how many donors close to Netanyahu contribute to right-wing organizations that persecute left-wing citizens and organizations and make up lies about them. We’d also be happy to know how much government and public money reaches NGOs in the territories who use them for antisemitic campaigns. All this information will be brought before the commission of inquiry, so let’s go investigate,” Zandberg said.

Right-wing advocacy organization Im Tirzu applauded the decision to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry. “We have been warning for nearly a decade about foreign intervention by European governments into Israeli internal policies,” said its chairman, Matan Peleg.

“In just the last year, we saw how European governments donate tens of millions to organizations that persecute IDF soldiers, defend terrorists in court and take part in campaigns to boycott Israel,” Peleg added. “European countries must stop their undemocratic, subversive activities against us and understand that Israel is an independent, sovereign state with a basic right to self-determination and self-defense.”

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