The government is considering new legislation requiring more transparency for NGOs that receive funding from foreign countries. And the European Union is angry.
EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Angerson met several weeks ago with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to discuss the NGO legislation, according to Army Radio. Basing itself on what it referred to as a “leaked internal EU document,” Army Radio said that the EU ambassador claimed before Shaked that if Israel adopted the proposed legislation it would impinge on freedom of expression and association.
He referred to the bill as something “we see mostly in tyrannical regimes.”
Israel already has on its books legislation that forces NGOs to report donations received from foreign countries.
Called the Law on Disclosure of Requirements for Groups Supported by a Foreign Government Body, the 2011 legislation requires that a “recipient of support that received a donation from a foreign governmental body will submit to the [NGO] registrar, within a week of the end of the quarter in which the donation was received, a report in an online form which the Justice Ministry will formulate.”
Five years ago, when the law was being discussed, numerous left-wing organizations launched an international campaign of lies to stop the government from passing this benign law.
Left-wing NGO heads and their supporters claimed that the legislation would harm the freedom of association and activities of civil society bodies in Israel. Naomi Chazan of the New Israel Fund claimed the law was “the single most dangerous threat to Israeli civil society since its inception.
The most common and pernicious claim was that the law discriminated by singling out left-wing NGOs. Heads of the left-wing NGOs and their allies were right that the law was pertinent only for them. But this was not because the law was discriminatory. It was because practically the only NGOs that receive money from foreign government bodies are the ones that advance left-wing political agendas with practically no political support within Israeli society.
In fact, we were unable to find a single right-wing NGO that receives funding from a foreign government body.
The increased accountability and transparency introduced by the 2011 NGO legislation has revealed the huge amounts of money transferred by foreign government entities to some 24 left-wing political advocacy NGOs.
But it has not stopped foreign governments – particularly Europeans – from donating money. Between 2012 and 2014 these organizations received NIS 104,470,500, according to figures compiled by NGO Monitor.
The European Union, a highly undemocratic body run by unelected bureaucrats that is suffering from abysmally low levels of popularity, provided 17 percent of the donations between 2012 and 2014. The idea that the ambassador of such a body is preaching to Israel about democracy is risible.
As was the case five years ago, left-wing NGO heads and people like the EU ambassador are once again engaging in a disingenuous campaign against the new NGO legislation.
Yet Shaked’s bill, which received its first stamp of approval this week when it was passed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, only seeks to increase transparency.
As explained by researchers at NGO Monitor, the new legislation takes the need for disclosure to the next level, demanding NGOs not only report their financial support to the supervising body, but also make it known during public sessions. For example, if the law passes, NGOs with foreign government funding would need to register as such in the official protocol of any Knesset debate, committee or event before participating.
Once again, like the 2011 law, Shaked’s bill does not single out left-wing NGOs. All NGOs that receive funding from foreign government entities would be obliged to register as such. It just so happens that the only political advocacy NGOs that do receive so much foreign funding are left-wing.
The Israeli public is rightly concerned about the activities of left-wing NGOs that seek to undermine the very legitimacy of the State of Israel. Democratically elected politicians are sensitive to those concerns and are taking steps to increase transparency to clarify to all that these NGOs enjoy little if any grassroots financial support. If not for the interference of foreign governments in internal Israeli affairs, these NGOs would probably not exist at all.
Israelis – and the world – have a right to know this.