Livni warns: Netanyahu's anti-NGO steps are steering Israel towards McCarthyism

As the prime minister charges ahead in his legal battle against foreign-funded NGOs, some of his critics claim he's undermining Israel's status as a democracy.

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October 21, 2017 17:10
3 minute read.
Netanyahu and Livni

Netanyahu and Livni. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), Israel's former Foreign Affairs Minister who oversaw the Jewish state's negotiations with the Palestinians, lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government for making legislative efforts she said were leading Israel in the wrong direction.

Speaking at a cultural event on Saturday, Livni charged that the government was paving the path for anti-democratic laws in its latest attack on Israeli NGOs that are funded by foreign governments.

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"Our duty is not to wink, not to turn a blind eye and to prevent them from implementing their plans," she stressed.

"Democracy isn't just 'the majority rules' but is also defending minorities and different opinions. This was said by both Jabotinsky and Begin," Livni continued. 

"The United States went through the experience of McCarthyism- we are experiencing it now in Israel," she warned.

"I can disagree with the activity of some of the NGOs but they shouldn't be outlawed. We have a role, all of us opposition members, even if it means defending viewpoints that we do not share."

Earlier in the week, the coalition decided unanimously to clamp down on foreign funding of political NGOs, agreeing that it would forge ahead with tougher legislation of laws that would require organizations to report foreign funding and announce it publicly if more than half of their budget comes from a foreign political entity.

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The coalition also called for a parliamentary commission of inquiry into "the involvement of foreign governments in the funding of political organizations and activities to harm IDF soldiers."

The majority of the organizations in Israel that are funded by foreign governments (25 of 27 NGOs listed by the Justice Ministry in 2016) happen to be left-wing.

Netanyahu has been adamant and vocal in his critique of such NGOs, particularly 'Breaking the Silence,' an organization that seeks to provide testimonies of former IDF soldiers who served in volatile areas such as the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The prime minister's battle with Breaking the Silence has embroiled him in the past in public diplomatic tiffs, such as in April when his evident dismay with the left-wing NGO led him to cancel a meeting the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who announced that he would meet with representatives of the NGO during his visit to the region.

On Saturday, Livni claimed that Netanyahu's actions against the NGO and others like it are raising questions about Israel's status as a democratic state.

"Israel is divided between two alternative ways. My vision is that of a Jewish and democratic state and I pause at the stop of separating from the Palestinians... This government believes in a different vision of the complete State of Israel [including the settlements] and the stop they're making along the way is a separation from democracy, while hurting the legal systems and law enforcement that seek to prevent the grinding down of democracy in the State of Israel."

Livni also accused the premier of folding to intense right-wing pressure from his coalition. "A vision of a minority is ruling this government. Netanyahu is a politician and not a statesman, what runs this government today are politics and the policy of Bayit Yehudi party because Netanyahu wants to appeal to that [support] base."

Additionally, she raised concerns about settlement construction, a key issue of contention between the opposition and the current coalition, which is the largest right-wing coalition to date. "It's time the State of Israel decides where it wants to go... settlements are part of the vision of the 'complete State of Israel.' I would not build more settlements outside the security barrier. I would not send more couples [to live there] because of the potential that some of these secluded settlements [would have to] be evacuated in the future."

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report. 

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