Controversial NGO transparency bill passes first vote

European parliamentarians urge MKs to vote against measure; Oren: Bill hurts Israel, helps BDS.

The Knesset plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset plenum
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The controversial NGO transparency bill  passed in a vote in the first reading 50-43 after press time Monday night.
The Justice Ministry bill says that, in addition to an existing law requiring the reporting of foreign government funding, any nonprofit organization that receives most of its funding from a foreign political entity will have to label itself as such in any publications.
Under the measure NGOs would also have to list which countries support it at any forum at which they meet with elected officials and in their advertisements.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused the opposition of showing “paranoia” about the bill, as she presented it in the Knesset.
“Some of you think it’s a horrible bill that shouldn’t be in our law books, but at the same time, you think it would be right to expand it and have it apply to other donors,” she said. “Both amount to whining as a political reflex about the death of democracy and the danger to the rule of law, but the truth must be said: Your arguments contradict one another, head-on.”
Shaked said the Left only wants transparency when it suits them to attack the Right.
“Transparency doesn’t belong to you and isn’t your inheritance. You’ll have to accept that sometimes this important topic is promoted by the Left and sometimes by the Right,” she said.
Shaked said the bill is meant to combat NGOs working against Israel’s interests as it is understood by the Right or Left, and serve foreign interests instead, the interests of those who fund them. The measure would though impact mostly left-wing groups since most right-wing groups operate on donations from private individuals, which the required transparency doesn’t cover.
Shaked said, the Dutch organization ICCO gave Breaking the Silence €42,000 after Operation Cast Lead, to provide at least 90 testimonies from IDF soldiers alleging war crimes.
Breaking the Silence has been criticized in Israel for publishing unsubstantiated accusations because most soldiers are quoted anonymously in its reports, and for taking their stories abroad, rather than to the IDF.
The opposition slammed the bill in what was expected to be a debate of at least three hours.
“These organizations don’t smear Israel’s name abroad, Shaked and her settler friends do,” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said. “The world hates Israel not because of what these organizations publish, but because of the occupation, and until you understand that, this persecution won’t help.”
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) compared the bill to policies of Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, and Argentina’s Peron, comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fascist dictators.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) called the bill the “battle cry of the destruction of democracy in Israel.”
“You are betraying the people who sent you here,” Shai said to the coalition.
Earlier Monday, 50 members of the European Parliament, mostly from the far Left and several of whom have called to boycott Israel, sent a letter urging all 120 MKs to vote against the NGO bill, urging them to “be brave and strong in upholding Israel’s pluralist democratic values and share our view that a vibrant civil society and open public debate... are not a threat to democracy, but a great strength.”
“We write to you as members of the European Parliament, who are committed to values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression,” they wrote.
“We support transparency in the conduct of public affairs in any democracy.
However, we are concerned that this law is inherently discriminatory.
It is framed in a manner that delegitimizes and demonizes NGOs who promote and defend human rights, as well as the European states and institutions that fund them.”
The MEPs called the bill “part of a worrying trend, promoted and condoned by the current Israeli government, to restrict, delegitimize, and stifle the work of NGOs, organizations, artists, writers, and thinkers who may be critical of current Israeli government policy.”
The letter implied that the EU would pull funding and benefits from Israeli universities, technology and businesses if the bill passes.
“European funding of NGOs working for peace and human rights, therefore, is not anti-Israeli in any way, but an embodiment of the values that the EU and Israel purport to share, and on which our cooperation depends,” they also wrote.
MK Nava Boker (Likud) said she was “shocked by the disrespect of the radical Left in Europe.
“They are used to activating their foreign agents, but I am committed only to the People of Israel,” she said.
“I will not tolerate such blatant and audacious European intervention.
They should deal with their own internal conflicts, like the refugee crisis and radical Islam that is knocking on their doors.”