Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked publicized what she called the “transparency bill” on Sunday, which would require NGOs who receive most of their funding from foreign governments to declare that they do so.
“The blatant intervention of foreign countries in the State of Israel’s internal matters through funding is an unprecedented, broadly-occurring phenomenon that violates all the rules and norms of relations between democratic countries,” Shaked said.
The bill is the latest of several iterations of legislation meant to limit donations organizations can 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 whose funding from foreign governments is over 50 percent of their budget.
An NGO that is mostly funded by foreign governments will 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 workers, and they 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 will carry a fine of NIS 29,200.
Shaked argued that foreign countries use NGOs to undermine Israel’s sovereignty and character and the democratically elected government’s authority. She brought the UN investigation into Operation Protective Edge, which accused Israel of possibly committing war crimes, as an example, pointing out that NGOs such as B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, Adalah and others testified to the commission.
“The ‘transparency bill’ will be a fence to block out blatant intervention by foreign countries in Israeli public life,” she stated. “It does not harm freedom of expression or the right to equality, and contributes to increasing transparency. The public and its representatives have the right to know who is stirring the pot.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), who proposed a similar bill early this year, said “there are correct relations between countries and diplomatic tools that are appropriate to use in order to influence the policies of allies. It is inappropriate for foreign governments to invest tens of millions of dollars in order to eat away at Israel’s policies as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Smotrich also said the legislation will fight “organizations whose entire goal is to instill post-Zionist policies in Israel” and will “put an end to radical left-wing NGOs’ subversion.”
Educational NGO Im Tirzu, which has led public campaigns against NGOs with foreign funding, praised the bill, but said it is not enough.
“The government of Israel must, at the same time, promote a bill to protect Israeli democracy by taxing these organizations and preventing them from receiving benefits from the state and keep them away from government institutions,” Im Tirzu’s spokesman said. “It cannot be that an organization that is supported by Palestinian funds in the hundreds of thousands of dollars... will not be drastically taxed and defined as a foreign agent or will get benefits like national service volunteers, like B’tselem.”
Im Tirzu quoted former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar as saying “support for a political entity by a foreign country is something that has to scare anyone who believes in democracy.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said Shaked is “declaring hunting season against human rights organizations.”
“Left-wing organizations don’t bring criticism to Israel; the occupation does,” she said. “The demand to label activists in organizations reminds me of dark periods in which organizations that criticized the government were persecuted.”
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said the bill is “meant solely to incite and label people and organizations that oppose the occupation and expose the government’s violations of human rights. The justice minister is [anti-democratic, and] who is acting in the spirit of McCarthyism to prevent any criticism or public debate against the government.”
According to the Musawa Center for the Rights of Arab Citizens of Israel, “almost all human rights organizations have stated the names of their donors for many years on their websites and in their publications, and do not hide the names of their donors like the settlers’ organizations, which Shaked serves and to which she funnels hundreds of millions in public money, do.”
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights said Shaked’s bill is meant to label groups with political views that are different from hers and criticize the government.
“The justice minister surely knows that registered NGOs, including Adalah, are required by law to submit a financial report to the registrar, which includes all the sources of their funding, and the information can be found on the organization’s website,” Adalah’s spokesman said.
“Funding from international sources for human rights organizations is an accepted and necessary thing in places and regimes in which there is a serious problem of human rights violations. This is why we think Shaked’s proposal is meant to persecute and incite against human rights organizations, a practice that is characteristic of backwards regimes in history and the present,” the NGO added.