Knesset passes bill requiring NGO transparency

MK Rotem withdraws more draconian measures before vote; PM blocks NGO inquiry; Lieberman associates say PM caved to left, vow revenge.

Knesset winter session 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Knesset winter session 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Knesset passed a bill into law on Monday requiring nongovernmental organizations to issue quarterly reports about funding they receive from foreign governments, and to reveal when they are backed by other countries in their websites and advertisements.
The bill, which was sponsored by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), passed its final reading by a 40-34 vote after tougher measures against NGOs and plans to form parliamentary inquiry committees to examine them were dropped.
RELATED:State responds: Panels on NGOs could affect civil rightsKnesset House C'tee approves probes into leftist NGOs
Knesset Law Committee chairman David Rotem, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, withdrew amendments that would have taken tax benefits away from NGOs supported by foreign governments. His amendments would also have required NGOs to report donations from foreign individuals and to write that they received foreign funding on every e-mail they sent.
Under the version approved on Monday, NGOs could be heavily fined for violating the new guidelines.
Following the bill’s approval in committee earlier this month, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the legislation was “clearly selective and politically motivated.”
“If the bill was truly out to increase transparency, it would include not only donations from foreign state entities, but also from foreign private donors, which are frequent funders of the activities of extremist organizations and groups in Israel,” the NGO said.
It noted that Rotem had agreed to apply the measures to all foreign donations, but had later dropped that amendment.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed support for Rotem’s amendments at Monday’s Likud faction meeting, in the face of strong opposition to the bill expressed by the leadership of several countries. But Rotem said he had decided to drop the amendments at the request of Zionist organizations that had told him the amendments would harm them.
Rotem said he would submit a different version of his amendments before the end of the Knesset’s winter session next month. He expressed confidence that he would be able to pass them.
Netanyahu also took steps on Monday to kill efforts to form a Knesset inquiry committee that would have examined donations from foreign countries to Israeli NGOs. The prime minister decided to accept a request by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to allow Likud MKs to vote their conscience on the bill rather than enforce party discipline.
That decision ensured that there would not be a majority to approve forming the parliamentary inquiry committee.
Netanyahu initially announced that he supported forming the committee, but he took steps to stop it from being created already last month, when he tried unsuccessfully to block faction discipline from being imposed on the measure.
“A parliamentary investigative committee would lack the power to enact change, and at the same time would further worsen the delegitimization of Israel worldwide,” the prime minister told the Likud faction Monday.
Kadima was quick to respond to Netanyahu’s decision.
“This is a welcome concession by an outgoing prime minister,” said Kadima MK Yoel Hasson. “Netanyahu once again proved that his consideration works only after the appropriate level of pressure is put on him. It is too bad that he needed the attorney-general, the Knesset legal adviser and Kadima in order to reach the right decision.”
However, Netanyahu’s decision to block the inquiry committee reportedly angered Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is in Brussels for a meeting of the Israel-European Union Association Council with the 27 EU foreign ministers on Tuesday.
Lieberman heard about Netanyahu’s decision from the press. His associates condemned the prime minister for “caving in to the Left,” and vowed revenge.
The EU foreign ministers and Lieberman are expected to face off at the meeting on the funding their countries give anti-Zionist organizations in Israel.
Meanwhile, a Panels poll broadcast Monday on the Knesset Channel found that most Israelis consider Lieberman a good politician and a bad foreign minister. Fiftyseven percent of respondents called him a good politician, and 10% said he was a bad one. Only 28% said he was good foreign minister.