BTselem Logo 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had the presence of mind to backtrack this
week on support for an anti-democratic Knesset motion advanced by Israel
Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman.
The foreign minister had hoped to create a
Knesset inquiry committee that could single out and scrutinize the foreign
funding of NGOs critical of Israel, particularly those that focused on purported
Israeli “war crimes.” But as the prime minister noted, the creation of a
committee with such a blatantly politicized agenda “would further worsen the
delegitimization of Israel worldwide.” Another opponent of the Lieberman motion,
AJC Executive Director David Harris, disliked the apparent attempt to stifle
freedom of expression. “Israel’s vibrant democracy not only can survive
criticism, but it also thrives and is improved by it,” he said.
thing did come out of the controversy surrounding Lieberman’s proposal: It built
momentum for the passage of a much fairer bill sponsored by coalition chairman
Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and framed after the US’s Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Elkin’s bill, which passed a final reading in a 40-34 vote on Monday, will
require all NGOs, regardless of their political leaning, to issue quarterly
reports on their foreign government funding, and to make clear in advertisements
and on their websites if they receive funding from other countries. Those who
refrain from disclosure will be subject to a fine of nearly NIS 30,000. NGO
Monitor, another opponent of the Lieberman bill, was instrumental in promoting
the Elkin bill.
Inexplicably, a law with an eminently reasonable
selfstated goal to “carefully balance the right of organizations in a democracy
to operate freely with the right of the Israeli public to know who funds the
organizations’ activities” was reportedly denounced by several MKs. Meretz
chairman Haim Oron criticized the government for becoming “increasingly
McCarthyist,” while MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said the law was reminiscent of
“regimes of darkness that persecute human rights organizations.”
Zahalka seem unable or unwilling to appreciate the tremendous challenge NGOs can
pose to Israel in its struggle to protect its right to defend itself.
case in point is the infamous Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead, partly a
near-copy-and-paste job from material produced by various NGOs. Unfortunately
some information, such as the estimate of the ratio of combatants to
noncombatants killed during the operation, is deeply contentious, and its
incorporation indicates a tainted approach to the Israeli-Palestinian
Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad acknowledged in a November
2010 interview with Al-Hayat that between 600 and 700 Hamas members were killed
in the Gaza fighting. This corresponds to the IDF’s Military Intelligence
Directorate estimate that 709 Palestinians killed during fighting were
combatants, but is about double the number of combatants estimated by the NGOs
and the Goldstone Report.
Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that
NGOs such as B’Tselem and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights have adopted
narrow definitions of what constitutes a “combatant.” B’Tselem, for instance,
follows a highly controversial International Committee of the Red Cross approach
in defining when a civilian is deemed to be taking part in hostilities. This
means that even people “who are closely involved in Hamas’s offensive
infrastructure are exempted,” according to the watchdog group NGO
And to be considered a combatant by PCHR, you have to have been
holding a gun at the time you were killed.
Casualties such as Hamas
terrorist Nizar Rayan and the 286 “traffic policemen” who were members of
Hamas’s military wing, Izzadin Kassam, or other terror organizations were
consequently labeled noncombatants.
Such tendentious methodology
undermines Israel’s ability to defend itself from acts of terror such as
Wednesday’s Grad-model Katyusha attack on Beersheba, launched from
THE ISRAELI public and the entire world have the
right to know that NGOs operating in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza receive tens
of millions of euros per year from foreign governments. They have the right to
know the specifics of such support. The legislation passed this week provides
the appropriate framework.
At the same time, with all the understandable
desire to protect Israel from the damage caused by some NGOs, our lawmakers must
remain vigilant not to compromise basic democratic principles. The NGO law
passed Monday maintains the necessary balance.