MKs call for New Israel Fund probe

Schneller: I’m interested in establishing boundaries and limits.

Otniel Schneller 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Otniel Schneller 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The brouhaha over allegations raised against the New Israel Fund in a report released this week by the Zionist student group Im Tirtzu has spread to the Knesset, where a number of initiatives to investigate the funding of NGOs and non-profit organizations operating in Israel have been broached.
After details of the Im Tirtzu report – which lays direct blame for the United Nations’ Goldstone Report on the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter on the NIF – were printed in an article in Ma’ariv last Friday, MKs Yisrael Hasson and Tzachi Hanegbi, both from the Kadima Party and members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, announced that they would push for a special hearing on the matter in that committee, in which the report’s claims would be investigated thoroughly.
According to the report, 92 percent of the negative citations used in the Goldstone Report criticizing the IDF’s conduct in Gaza last year came from 16 Israeli NGOs, which Im Tirtzu has alleged received some $7.8 million in financial support from the NIF in 2008-2009.
But Hasson and Hanegbi were not the only ones demanding answers this week. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), also a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he was pushing for government authorization to create a parliamentary investigative committee to look into the funding and activities of the NIF, the organizations it finances and other NGOs operating in Israel, with the hopes of establishing well-defined lines that would not be crossed in the future.
The creation of a parliamentary investigative committee would be a significant step up from the other committee hearings possibly facing the NIF, and would also have broader powers, which would be decided upon at the time of the committee’s creation.
While Schneller said he had hoped to bring the committee’s creation up for a decision in the Knesset on Wednesday, he had opted to delay the decision until next week in order to “solidify a broad consensus on the matter.”
In his conversation with the Post, however, Schneller refuted the idea that such an investigation would be an affront to freedom of speech, and said the allegations surrounding the NIF had “made it clear that red lines needed to be identified.”
“I’m not interesting in shutting people up,” Schneller told the Post. “I’m interested in establishing boundaries and limits.”
“There’s a certain limit to what is legitimate and what is not,” he continued. “If you have [Israeli] organizations that are actively working against the State of Israel, well then wait a minute – that’s not legitimate, and enough is enough.”
Schneller added that he felt at least one of the groups connected to the NIF, which had given testimony to Goldstone’s commission of inquiry, had overstepped the bounds of legitimacy in that it had already tried to bring the same issue – regarding IDF actions in Gaza – to the Israeli Supreme Court, which rejected the case.
“They attempted to bring a case alleging that the IDF had destroyed entire villages in Gaza,” Schneller said. “The Supreme Court threw it out and dismissed it as false, but the group nonetheless presented the issue to Goldstone. That’s a prime example of an illegitimate activity, because it’s not only faulting the IDF based on false testimony, but it’s saying that decisions made by the courts of the State of Israel are not binding.”
While Schneller insisted that he would continue to pursue the matter in the Knesset, another MK, David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who heads the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, announced on Wednesday his intention to form a subcommittee that would look into contributions to Israeli NGOs from foreign governments and organizations.
A press release declaring the need for “a subcommittee whose main taskis to investigate the system through which funds are received by NGOsfrom foreign states,” was sent out by Rotem on Wednesday afternoon.
“Thesubcommittee under my auspices is not being created to look into anyspecific organization,” Rotem said in a statement. “But for the need tothoroughly examine the system in which funding is received from foreigngovernments, which, from time to time, come with foreign motivations.”