Ayelet Shaked to meet with US Ambassador Shapiro about foreign NGOs bill

Supporters say the bill will balance out problematic foreign intervention in Israel’s domestic affairs, while critics say that the government is trying to silence critics of its policies.

Ayelet Shaked
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will meet on Friday with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to try to lower the volume of criticism about the NGO funding transparency bill making rounds in the Knesset.
She plans to follow up with meetings with various EU ambassadors in the near future, though the scheduling is still in process.
Supporters say the legislation will balance out problematic foreign intervention in Israel’s domestic affairs, while critics say that the government is trying to silence critics of its policies that violate human rights.
The measure is the latest of several versions of legislation targeting donations that organizations receive from foreign governments or entities funded by foreign governments.
Past versions, which did not pass, tried to tax the donations, whereas Shaked’s bill would label those NGOs that receive more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments.
An NGO that is mostly funded by foreign governments would have to say so in its publications and reports that are publicly available, and in any contact in writing or at meetings with public officials or employees, and would have to detail which foreign entities donated to it in the relevant years.
In addition, the NGOs’ representatives would have to wear name tags with the name of their organization on it when they are in the Knesset, as lobbyists do.
Any violation of the law would carry a fine of NIS 29,200.
Shaked hopes that her conversations with Shapiro and the EU ambassadors will help her persuade them to focus on the fact that the bill does not prohibit NGOs with foreign funding from acting or having free speech; rather, her focus is to increase awareness where NGOs are backing a foreign agenda.
In a JTA op-ed on Monday, she gave a robust defense of the law, declaring it a component of national security and comparing it to a US law requiring the registration of foreign lobbyists.
In fact, Shaked wrote that the requirements of the bill she has proposed “are much less stringent than those imposed by the United States.”
The Obama administration on Wednesday rejected the comparison.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told JTA, “They’re two different things altogether,” referring to the bill the cabinet approved for government support and the US Foreign Agents Registration Act. Kirby did not specify the differences.
Kirby also said that since the cabinet green-lighted the bill, US officials have expressed concerns about the dangers it could pose to a “free and functioning civil society.”
He noted the bill must undergo multiple readings in the Knesset, a process that could modify the language.
The American Jewish Committee has also expressed concerns about the legislation.
“The proposed solution poses as many risks as the problem itself, including the risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost,” the AJC said on Tuesday.
Criticism from the EU and from the human rights community has been ever harsher.
Within Israel, the opposition has slammed the measure and former justice minister MK Tzipi Livni has proposed alternate legislation that would require similar labeling measures but for all foreign donations, including private funding.
The foreign government versus private foreign funding distinction strikes a sensitive chord, with the Left feeling singled out by Shaked’s bill since foreign countries almost exclusively fund NGOs on the Left whereas NGOs on the Right get a great deal of foreign private funding.
In an interview with Walla on Thursday, Shaked rejected the idea of needing to label those receiving foreign private funding, saying that the Companies Registrar records these donations and that the funds are smaller since there are limits on foreign donations to politicians.
The justice minister did not address the fact that these limits do not pertain to right-wing NGOs or business interests.
For example, Livni has called for the Israel Hayom newspaper to fall under the law since most of its funding comes from abroad.
Shaked has led an organized campaign to increase awareness with EU countries about NGOs their governments are funding that she views as problematic, giving visiting justice ministers names and information about the NGOs with the hope that they will cut off funding.
She did not respond to inquiries about to what extent her public relations full-court press to convert the bill’s critics was coordinated with the Foreign Ministry.
Lahav Harkov and JTA contributed to this report.