Gov’t not enforcing transparency law on NGO foreign funding

The Associations Registrar told the Knesset's researchers that "there was no need to exercise enforcement powers."

A BOY carries food at an aid distribution center run by UNRWA, in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City in September 2019.  (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
A BOY carries food at an aid distribution center run by UNRWA, in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City in September 2019.
The government has not enforced its law requiring organizations mostly funded by foreign government entities to submit special reports and disclose its funding publicly, a Knesset Research and Information Center report found.
The requirement was legislated in the 2016 NGO Law, which was highly controversial and drew international criticism. At the time, a US State Department spokesman said the law poses dangers to a “free and functioning civil society,” and the EU said “the reporting requirements imposed by the new law go beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations.”
Yet, despite the pitched Knesset battle to pass the law and then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked’s defense of it to her counterparts abroad and in the international media, the Associations Registrar, a department in the Justice Ministry, has done nothing to enforce the law.
Knesset Research and Information Center report, ordered by Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, found that the Associations Registrar does not take any particular action to oversee the law’s implementation, beyond its general supervision of NGOs.
In 2019, only 118 (0.3%) of 39,399 NGOs registered in Israel reported foreign entity funding, a decrease from the previous two years; in 2017 there were 204.
One complaint from right-wing organization Im Tirzu on undisclosed foreign funding of 13 organizations found that 11 of them were violating the law, but the Associations Registrar did not take action to enforce it.
The Associations Registrar told the Knesset’s researchers that “there was no need to exercise enforcement powers.”
The registrar did not have any information on reviews it had done regarding the topic of foreign funding nor a database of public complaints on the topic.
In addition, the Associations Registrar says it works to inform organizations of their requirement to disclose foreign funding, but does not check on whether they are following those laws.
Smotrich mentioned the failure of enforcement in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on the topic of foreign governments funding NGOs that intervene in internal Israeli affairs and promote boycotts and delegitimization of Israel.
Likud MK Ariel Kallner cited think tank NGO Monitor’s latest report, which pointed to European government-funded organizations with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), recognized as a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada and others, as well as countries that fund illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, among other actions.
“This isn’t unintentional... It is a continuous and planned struggle to violate Israeli sovereignty,” Kallner said. “I call on the government and Foreign Ministry: Do not let this continue!”
Reuven Azar, head of foreign policy in the National Security Council, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gotten personally involved in some of the outreach to European leaders about their governments’ funding for Palestinian – but not Israeli – organizations that engage in “lawfare against Israel, deny Israel’s right to exist, incite to antisemitism, boycotts against Israel, etc.”
Since the National Security Council began taking care of the matter two years ago, the EU has added a clause to the document it requires the Palestinian organizations it supports to sign that they will not give funds to members of terrorist groups.
Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon said: “A sovereign state cannot allow itself to have foreign governments intervene in internal controversial political matters. It’s not a question of Left or Right, it’s a matter of principle.”
Yet lawmakers on the Left and Right vocally argued about the matter, with Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh expressing outrage that EU funding went to organizations whose members are associated with the PFLP and were arrested in connection with the murder of teenager Rina Shnerb last year.
When she asked Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz if that bothers him, he answered “no.”
Horowitz posited that “if these governments were supporting the settlers and a casino owner’s money went to the Left, you would come and say stop that foreign funding.”
The “casino owner” was a reference to Netanyahu supporter and Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson.
Horowitz added that “most of the Palestinian Authority’s budget comes from the EU and if they didn’t send €600 million a year, the PA would collapse. Instead of showing appreciation to the Europeans for paying instead of us, we are offending them and saying they support terrorism.”