Israel Beiteinu promotes rival anti-NGO bill

Kirschenbaum's bill would levy tax on donations from foreign gov'ts to Israeli NGOs; MK queries PM's opposition to inquiry into contributions.

Faina Kirschenbaum  311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Faina Kirschenbaum 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A proposed bill that would limit the ability of foreign governments and international organizations to contribute to Israeli NGOs is coming under fire from both left-wing groups and Israel Beitenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum.
Kirschenbaum slammed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday for supporting the bill by Likud MK Ofir Akunis over her own legislation.
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Akunis has proposed legislation that would ban foreign governments or international organizations, such as the UN, from donating over NIS 20,000 to political NGOs that seek to influence Israeli policy.
According to Channel 2 News, Netanyahu plans to support the proposal when it is brought to a vote in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday.
A similar bill, proposed by Kirschenbaum, will also be brought to the ministerial committee.
However, her bill would levy a 45 percent tax on donations from foreign governments to any NGO in Israel, as opposed to banning contributions. An exception would be made for NGO activities that are supported by government ministries.
“I don’t know why Netanyahu supported Akunis’s bill over mine. He might not even be aware that my bill exists,” Kirschenbaum pointed out. However, she said that the real question should be: “Why doesn’t Netanyahu support a parliamentary committee of inquiry?” In July, Netanyahu voiced opposition to Kirschenbaum’s bill to probe left-wing NGOs, a move that Israel Beiteinu leader Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called “grotesque.”
“An inquiry committee is much saner and less severe than Akunis’s proposal,” Kirschenbaum said.
“I agree with Akunis that foreign governments should not be allowed to influence Israeli policies,” Kirschenbaum explained, “but my law is much more practical.”
According to the Israel Beiteinu MK, Akunis’s bill will be impossible to implement, because “political NGO” has no clear definition.
“Are human rights organizations political?” she asked, adding that her bill will allow the government to use the 45 percent tax for its own needs, “which could help fund new social policies.”
“I just hope that Netanyahu isn’t supporting Akunis’s bill to make up for giving up on [West Bank] outposts, but that’s a matter of internal Likud politics,” Kirschenbaum added.
Meanwhile, leaders of prominent left-wing Israeli NGOs said the bill would deal a potentially crippling blow to their work in the country.
“The effect of this legislation would be the closure of all of these civil organizations,” said Haim Ehrlich, director of the left-wing organization “Yesh Din.”
Ehrlich spoke at a press conference held at the offices of Physicians for Human Rights Israel in Jaffa on Tuesday, where he was joined by officials from PHR-Israel as well as the NGOs “Gisha,” “Israeli Children,” the Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.
According to a statement read at the beginning of the press conference, those NGOs in attendance are joined in their criticism by dozens of left-wing Israeli NGOs.
Sari Bashi, the director of Gisha, said that “European governments fund battered women’s shelters, universities, research institutions and other positive organizations in Israel.
This is not an attempt to thwart foreign influence on the State of Israel, this is an attempt to silence people.”
Bashi said that the amount of contributions that comes from foreign governments varies with each NGO, but that Gisha, for instance, receives around half of its donations from such bodies or from foreign organizations supported by foreign governments. She said that the move would probably only affect left-wing NGOs, in that right-wing NGOs get their funding mainly from private donations and not from any foreign governments.
At the press conference, the NGOs also called for the Israeli government to take stronger action against what they said is a worsening climate of violence and incitement against left-wing activists, citing recent “price-tag” operations taking against such activists, which they said are drawing encouragement from bills such as this one.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israeli Union for Progressive Judaism asserted that the parliamentarians supporting such bills aren’t concerned about the sources of funding for NGOs, rather “the very activities of these organizations.
Anyone who is worried about the future of Israeli democracy needs to understand the extent of the parliamentary campaign of incitement being directed against these organizations.”
Kariv said that he also believes that such legislation “isn’t directed only at any particular organization, but also at tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Israelis who benefit from the assistance in health, education, legal assistance [given by these organizations].”