Begin declares NGO bills ‘practically dead’

Ministers can only vote on bills if PM decides to revive them, which he is unlikely to do; Lieberman says he "won't give up."

Minister Benny Begin 58 (photo credit: Pool)
Minister Benny Begin 58
(photo credit: Pool)
Senior ministers sent mixed signals on the future of the disputed NGO bills on Monday, with Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin proclaiming them “practically dead,” and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisting one of them will be brought to a vote on Wednesday.
The bills in question limit donations from foreign governments and international organizations to NGOs. One, by MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) would cap such contributions at NIS 20,000, if they are sent to political organizations. The other, drafted by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), seeks to levy a 45 percent tax on donations from foreign governments to any NGO.
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The NGO bills have faced fierce opposition from leftwing politicians and organizations, as well as some ministers in the coalition, claiming that the measures limit freedom of expression. Kirschenbaum and Akunis, however, have said their initiatives will prevent foreign governments and international organizations from intervening in Israeli politics.
Israel Beiteinu put Kirschenbaum’s initiative on the Knesset agenda for a preliminary vote on Wednesday, with Lieberman saying his party “won’t give up on this bill.”
“We expect the coalition to consider our promises to our voters,” Lieberman said.
“When there is ‘land-mine’ legislation, we prefer to find ways to dismantle the mine and not make it explode.” However, the foreign minister said he would be willing to delay the vote by a week if the coalition leadership requests that his party do so.
Sources in the Likud, however, said the bill has no possibility of passing.
Begin told the The Jerusalem Post on Monday that once the bills were approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, he appealed to the ministerial plenum.
Begin’s appeal means the ministers can only vote on the bills again if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decides to revive them, which he is unlikely to do in light of opposition by Begin and other ministers.
“The bill is dead,” Begin told the Post. “If there’s a medical term for ‘practically dead,’ that’s what the bill would be.”
Akunis underwent throat surgery last week, and is currently unable to speak, but his spokesman said his bill will not be brought to a vote as long as it isn’t approved by the ministers.
However, Kirschenbaum’s initiative is still on the agenda.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) cited “simple math” to explain that the bill has no chance of passing.
According to Elkin, even if there is coalition discipline in favor of the NGO bill, ministers will not be required to vote against a government decision.
Therefore, with all opposition factions other than the National Union likely to oppose the measure, and many ministers absent from the Knesset, the bill cannot get a majority vote in the plenum.