(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The US Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement Monday underlining the differences between its own Foreign Agents Registration Act and the NGO transparency bill championed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in a clear sign of its displeasure with the proposed legislation.
The statement was issued along with one that said US Ambassador Dan Shapiro met on Sunday with Shaked to discuss the law. The US Embassy is extremely tightlipped about meetings Shapiro holds with Israeli officials, and this was one of the only times during his four-and-ahalf year tenure here that his office has issued a written statement about such a meeting.
“The United States and Israeli governments maintain a robust dialogue and open consultation on a wide range of issues of mutual concern and interest,” the rare statement read. “In this context, Ambassador Shapiro met with Minister Shaked yesterday, and deeply appreciated their respectful and productive discussion.”
The statement said Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation, and “noted the US government’s concerns on the matter.”
According to the statement, Shapiro “noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society. He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”
The statement said the two agreed to continue their dialogue on the matter.
The second statement, about the Foreign Agents Registration Act, was clearly an answer to Shaked’s argument, as articulated in a recent JTA editorial, that her proposed law is less draconian than the American foreign- agents law.
Shaked wrote that there are about “2,000 lobbyists registered in the United States who represent the interests of ‘foreign political entities’ and receive funding from them.
The United States understood in time the importance of this identification of the foreign interests on behalf of whom the various organizations operate.”
Shaked wrote that the requirements in her legislation “are much less stringent than those imposed by the United States upon similar types of activity under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
On Monday, Shapiro publicly and uncharacteristically disagreed.
“As a general matter, US law imposes no limits, restrictions or transparency requirements on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans,” the statement issued from his spokesman’s office read.
In contrast, the statement reads: “The draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities. That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works. FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”
Shapiro is not the only ambassador who has registered his concern about the law, with similar sentiments having been articulated in recent weeks by the EU ambassador in Israel, as well as the ambassadors of a number of key European states.
Last month, the European Endowment for Democracy, linked to the EU, allocated €30,000 to B’Tselem over the next seven months to fight the legislation.