(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday that he backs an NGO transparency law, but came out against one of the controversial clauses in the proposed law, which requires representatives of NGOs receiving foreign funding to wear special tags in the Knesset.
“I do not understand how the demand for transparency is anti-democratic,” he said.
“The opposite is true. In democratic regimes, you want to know who is funding NGOs, from the Right, the Left, up or down and funding by governments is certainly something the public should know about.”
What needs to be done, he said, was to bring the proposed legislation closer in line with norms adopted by the US House of Representatives.
Netanyahu first referenced these norms on Thursday when he mentioned US legislation adopted in January 2014 that set rules for witnesses giving testimony to congressional committees during the 114th Congress.
According to US House Resolution 5, witnesses must submit in advance written statements of their proposed testimony.
In addition, the resolution mandates that those testifying must include a “disclosure of any federal grants or contracts, or contracts or payments originating with a foreign government, received during the current calendar year or either of the two previous calendar years by the witness or an entity represented by the witness and related to the subject matter of the hearing.”
In other words, witnesses before congressional committees must spell out in writing whether they have received any funds from a foreign government.
According to the proposed Israeli NGO law, only NGOs receiving more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments would need to make a declaration.
In addition to doing away with the clause in the proposed bills that would obligate special tags in the Knesset, Netanyahu said the second change he wanted made to the NGO law was that the NGOs be obligated to report any funding at all from foreign governments.
By making those two changes, he said, the transparency bill would be brought “in line with what is accepted in the US.” He called these two changes “necessary” and “important.”
Last week, US envoy Dan Shapiro came out publicly against the proposed legislation, as have various European governments. Netanyahu is hoping to mute that criticism by making the legislation similar to norms used in the US Congress.
A version of the bill championed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked does not include the name-tag clause Netanyahu mentioned; that article comes from a similar bill drafted by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi).
Shaked planned for the name-tag clause to be added when her ministry’s proposal and the private-member bill are combined in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, which is led by another Bayit Yehudi MK, Nissan Slomiansky.
Currently, all registered lobbyists must wear name tags with bright orange lanyards in the Knesset.
Also Sunday, MKs from Meretz, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid proposed legislation in response to the NGO transparency bill, which would require organizations to reveal from which government offices and local authorities they received funding.
Currently, NGOs only need to report that they received funding from an Israeli government authority, but not which. Such funds amount to hundreds of millions of shekels, according to the MKs who proposed the bill.
“The time has come to stop the hypocrisy,” MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said. “It cannot be that those who are battling left-wing NGOs in the name of transparency can hide between mysterious clauses while transferring public funding to right-wing extremists.”
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuly called to “stop the government’s policy of winking – on the one hand publicly denouncing some right-wing extremist organizations and at the same time finding hidden and roundabout ways through which, in the end, they get public funding.”
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said transparency is essential for good governance, regardless of right- or left-wing politics.