Likud MK, Peace Now leader spar over NGO bill

Oppenheimer: Measure would limit freedom of expression; Danon: The public elected Likud to promote its ideology.

Danon 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Danon 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Danny Danon (Likud) and Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer debated the pros and cons of proposed bills to limit foreign governments’ funding of political NGOs in the Knesset of Wednesday.
One bill, proposed by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) would limit foreign government’s donations to organizations that sponsor political activity to NIS 20,000. Another, which would levy a 45 percent tax on such contributions, was drafted by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu). Both were approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but have yet to reach the Knesset because the decision was appealed by Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin.
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In an event publicized as an English-language debate for the foreign media, Oppenheimer slammed the bill as undemocratic and limiting freedom of expression and Danon, instead of Akunis who was recuperating from vocal-chord surgery, defended the measure, saying that it prevents unfair intervention by foreign governments in Israeli affairs.
“I don’t think this is a debate over who is defending democracy or fighting democracy,” Danon pointed out. “I consider myself and my party democratic, but when we start dealing with the core issues that we were elected to promote, we are accused of being anti-democratic.”
The Likud MK explained that when his party was in the opposition, it was unable to successfully promote its policies.
“Now that we’re in power, it’s our job to pass laws that defend our positions,” he said. “When there’s a sensitive issue, the opposition says ‘no, don’t touch that,’ and I say, yes we can, that’s why we were elected.”
According to Danon, ”protocols from the EU show that their money is being used to influence people in Israel to vote against the Likud.”
“To me, this is not kosher,” he quipped. “However, when a private individual gives money to an organization, it’s kosher.”
Danon said that “none of these bills hurt Yariv Oppenheimer’s ability to protest, fundraise or vote in an election. Instead of getting money from European governments, he should go to the public, convince them, get a majority vote in the next Knesset, and then you will decide the government’s policy.”
Oppenheimer, however, argued that “this is not a matter of right-wing policy, it’s about changing the rules of the game.”
“The right wing won the election, and gets to do almost whatever they want, because they’re the majority,” he said. “You decided to smash the peace process, build settlements and defend outposts that are meant to be evacuated.”
“I think what you’re doing is wrong, but you have the power, because this is a democracy,” Oppenheimer added. “At the same time, democracy doesn’t mean that you can use a majority in the Knesset to change the rules of the game.”
The Peace Now leader opposed Danon’s claim that the majority is simply promoting its policies.
“When the left is in power, they never outlaw basic civilian action, like the ability to boycott,” he pointed out.
“The Likud is only promoting a bill against foreign government donations in order to delegitimize NGOs and say they’re supporting other governments,” Oppenheimer stated. “They’re trying to weaken voices in the opposition.”
He added that freedom of speech goes beyond basic expression, but is also “the ability to run an organization that researches and brings facts to the public.”
The two also argued about the legitimacy of private donations to political activity, with Danon saying that it’s a matter of individual freedom. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, said that private donations have no transparency, and therefore, are more “dangerous” than those from foreign governments.
The Likud MK also said the Knesset must decide on a definition of “political NGO” and “political activity” in its discussion of the bill. Oppenheimer retorted that “everything is political.”
“When the government decides what is political and which activity is allowed, this is not freedom of speech,” he said.
“These laws aren’t saying that [opposition leader] Tzipi Livni can’t be elected or Yariv Oppenheimer can’t protests in front of the Likud offices,” Danon explained. “These are laws that promote my values, which got me elected.”
“We still have the freedom to vote, to express yourself and to demonstrate,” the Likud MK pointed out.