Netanyahu: NGO transparency bill is right, democratic and necessary

Numerous ambassadors have attempted to pressure Israeli lawmakers from passing the bill, especially from Kulanu.

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February 1, 2016 16:31
3 minute read.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a meeting of Israel’s ambassadors and consul-general. (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)

 
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to support legislation requiring greater transparency for NGOs funded by foreign governments Monday, as European countries pressured individual Israeli lawmakers to vote against it.

“Try to imagine a situation in which Israel would fund the separatist movements of the Basques or the Corsicans, or other places,” Netanyahu said at the opening of a Likud faction meeting.

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“There would be great outrage.”

The prime minister said that the bill in question is meant to create greater transparency regarding the activities of foreign governments within Israeli democracy.

The proposal “has been met with complaints from those who usually support transparency,” he added.

“This bill is right, democratic and necessary, and this bill will pass,” Netanyahu stated.

The legislation was scheduled to go to a vote Monday, but postponed by a week due to an overly-long parliamentary agenda.

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The Justice Ministry bill states that any non-profit organization that receives most of its funding from a foreign political entity will have to present itself as such, as well as list which countries support the NGO in any forum in which they are speaking with elected officials and in any publicly available texts – whether in advertisements, online, in written reports, etc.

Much of the criticism of the bill touted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been of the fact that it is likely to only impact left-wing organizations, many of which are supported by European countries and the US, whereas right-wing NGO foreign donors are more likely to be private people and not political entities.

Donor country ambassadors, including US ambassador Dan Shapiro and EU ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, have met with Shaked in the past to present their case against the bill.

In recent days, ambassadors and staff of some embassies, including the US, EU and individual European states, such as the UK, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands, have met with MKs to discuss the bill, which lawmakers saw as an attempt to sway them to vote against it.

The embassies have especially focused on lawmakers from Kulanu as a possible weak link that could be swayed on the matter, in light of former ambassador to the US and Kulanu MK Michael Oren’s stated opposition to it, because he said it will harm Israel’s foreign relations.

However, Kulanu chairman Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said earlier this month that his party “could live with” the bill and will vote for it.

Shaked defended the bill from the claim that it only targets left-wing organizations, responding to a Yesh Atid no-confidence motion based on the proposal: “When you call this the ‘left-wing NGO bill,’ you are slandering the Left, as if the entire left is acting in the name of foreign countries.”

Shaked also responded to those saying the bill is anti-democratic, calling such claims irresponsible.

“Though this is a government bill from the Justice Ministry, and it has been examined under the Attorney General’s microscope and he didn’t find anything unconstitutional about it, and even though it does not deny or harm even the fingernail of freedom of expression or assembly, you decided it is ‘anti-democratic.’...When you say it’s anti-democratic, that is what causes damage in the world. When you go to the world and say incorrect things, that harms us,” she stated.

Another controversial element of the NGO bill that has been the focus of much criticism would require representatives of the relevant NGOs to wear a noticeable tag when they are in the Knesset, much like lobbyists, who must wear their Knesset ID tags on bright orange lanyards.

The clause is not in the Justice Ministry bill; rather it is in a similar proposal by another Bayit Yehudi MK, Bezalel Smotrich. The clause could be added to the Justice Ministry bill in the Knesset’s committees, though this is uncertain, and Shaked told The Washington Post this week that she is “apathetic” to what happens to it.

Netanyahu has said he opposes the name-tag proposal.

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