Peace Now petition 521.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The debate currently under way in the Knesset over several controversial bills
has taken the country by storm. Opponents of the proposed legislation claim that
the bills are “anti-democratic” and seek to limit freedom of expression. But I
have yet to hear a clear explanation as to why any of these bills go against the
grain of democracy. What is undemocratic about them? Perhaps it is the reverse.
Perhaps today’s situation concerning NGOs, the courts and libel is undemocratic
and it is these bills that can, albeit imperfectly, contribute to assuring that
Israel remains a robust democracy.
The controversy revolves around the
NGO Funding Transparency Law, an amendment to the Libel Law, and the Bar
As explained by The Jerusalem Post
’s Lahav Harkov
earlier this week, the NGO Funding Transparency Law would limit the amount of
funds non-government organizations can receive from abroad.
Law, proposed by MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), would raise
the penalty for libel without proof of damages from NIS 50,000 to NIS 300,000,
should it pass in its second and third readings. If damage were proven, the
penalty would be up to NIS 600,000, and the amount could jump to NIS 1.5 million
if the media outlet refused to publish the harmed party’s reaction.
Bar Association Bill, proposed by Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert
Ilatov, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and others, would regulate who
represents the Bar Association in the Judicial Selection Committee, enforcing
that one member of the opposition and one from the coalition are
SINCE THE 1977 elections which brought the Right to power, the
Left has felt cheated. The Right won in democratic elections, but that wasn’t
good enough. To them, it was a fluke and not truly representative of the
But the Left’s hypocrisy has long been obvious. A
recent example occurred when Hamas won the 2006 elections – suddenly, it was
perfectly democratic and acceptable.
As it is the Left that still
controls the media, judiciary and civil society organizations, it isn’t
surprising that the bills being debated in the Knesset threaten the Left – but
that doesn’t mean they threaten democracy.
These are internationally
accepted ways of preventing the undermining of democracy and a number of
countries have similar, if not stricter, laws in place.
certainly not alone in attempting to curb foreign influence in its domestic
The EU Freedom of Information Law specifically outlines the
operating requirements for NGOs, among them the need for
The US has the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for
the same purpose – to prevent foreign intervention in domestic issues.
WHY have Israelis taken to the streets to protest such laws? Hundreds of
left-wing activists gathered in front of Habimah National Theater in Tel Aviv
Tuesday night in protest against these bills.
Meretz and Peace Now were
among the organizations who called for the gathering.
On Monday, Kadima
MK Yoel Hasson hosted a “Conference to Save Democracy,” featuring MKs, judges
and law professors, most of whom opposed both bills on the Knesset
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) accused the coalition of
proposing bills that “harm the checks and balances on the government. First, the
government will weaken the courts, the press and human rights NGOs. Then, they
will be able to pass any laws they want, because the court will do what they
want and the media will be afraid to criticize.”
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu defended the libel bill following opposition claims that it was
“anti-democratic,” saying, “As long as I am prime minister, Israel will continue
to be a strong democracy.”
It appears that the frenzied nervousness of
the Left stems from a deep-rooted belief that the Right is intent on destroying
the current existing elements of democracy in this country and suppressing
freedom of speech. Theirs is an unfortunate inability to recognize that these
laws are not “extreme,” “anti-democratic” or “fascist,” but rather an attempt to
limit the ability of anyone, including those on the Right, to hammer away at
this country’s strong democratic foundation.