Ministers to vote on NGO-foreign funding bill

This measure is the latest of several iterations of legislation targeting donations that organizations receive from foreign governments or entities funded by foreign governments.

December 27, 2015 06:45
2 minute read.
Israeli Knesset

Israeli Knesset members arguing in parliament.. (photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is set to vote Sunday on Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s “transparency bill,” which would require NGOs who receive most of their funding from foreign governments to declare that they do so.

The measure seeking government backing is the latest of several iterations of legislation targeting donations that organizations receive from foreign governments or entities funded by foreign governments. Past versions, which did not pass, tried to tax the donations, whereas Shaked’s bill would only label the NGOs, and only apply to those that receive more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments.

An NGO that is mostly funded by foreign governments would have to say so in its publications and reports that are publicly available, in any contact in writing or at meetings with public officials or employees, and will have to detail which foreign entities donated to them in the relevant years. In addition, the NGOs’ representatives will have to wear name tags with the name of their organization on it when they’re in the Knesset, as lobbyists do. Any violation of the law would carry a fine of NIS 29,200.

“A country that wishes to defend its sovereignty must set limits to the involvement of foreign elements,” Shaked said over the weekend. “Gross interference in the internal matters of another country violates sovereignty, especially when it is not transparent. Guns and knives are not the only weapons. A false and well-funded story can also be a weapon when told to the world by NGOs claiming to represent Israeli interests, but are actually funded by foreign governments who use them to advance their worldview.”

The bill is expected to pass easily, because it has the support of every party in the coalition, including Kulanu. Former justice minister Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) blasted Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon for supporting the legislation.

“When you are part of the government, there are a thousand ways to prevent the advancement of bills,” she said.

Knesset State Control Committee chairwoman Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) said the measure “shows that Israeli democracy is in dark days.”

“Transparency is supposed to be for everyone, not focused on particular groups,” she said. “The bill would put the mark of Cain on human rights groups.”

Volker Beck, head of the Bundestag’s German-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, told The Jerusalem Post he hopes the ministers do not approve the bill. He said a similar law exists in Russia that hinders programs that help Holocaust survivors because they would have to tag themselves as foreign agents.

“I hope that the Israeli government is not endorsing steps in this direction,” Beck said.

“Shaked’s proposal is an offspring of Putin’s idea of foreign agents. This suits Belarus, but not the only democracy in the Middle East, the Jewish and democratic state. I defend Israel every day against criticism, and its position in a hostile environment.

I fight against boycott attempts and double standards by the labeling of products by the EU. But Shaked’s bill can’t be justified. It is simply anti-democratic. I hope Israel’s government also sees that.”

Ministers will also vote in the committee on a bill sponsored by Kulanu MK Yifat Shasha-Biton that would lower the minimum work age from 14 to 13, and on legislation introduced by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg that would prohibit ministers and deputy ministers from using government-issued cars on Shabbat.

Benjamin Weinthal in Berlin contributed to this report.

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