German MPs: NGO bill ‘endangers Israeli democracy’

Knesset set to decide Monday on transparency legislation.

KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein speaks to Bundestag members in Berlin. (photo credit: BOAZ ARAD)
KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein speaks to Bundestag members in Berlin.
(photo credit: BOAZ ARAD)
Legislation to require increased transparency for organizations that are mostly funded by foreign governments would damage Israel’s reputation as a democracy, leaders of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Bundestag wrote ahead of Monday’s expected final vote on the NGO transparency bill.
Under the Justice Ministry bill in question, any nonprofit organization that receives more than half of its funding from a foreign political entity would have to indicate as much in any publication or letter to elected officials or civil servants.
In addition, a list of the NGOs falling under the bill’s purview, as well as the countries from which they received donations, would have to be posted on the Non-Profit Registrar’s website.
NGOs already must report all contributions from foreign governments to the registrar.
The initiative has been controversial since its inception, because the vast majority of organizations that would fall under its purview are left-wing.
Its supporters say that the public has a right to know when foreign governments are trying to influence Israeli policy.
The Bundestag deputies – German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group chairman Volker Beck (Greens) and lawmakers Gitta Connemann (CDU/CSU), Kerstin Griese (SPD) and Jan Korte (The Left Party) – penned a letter Wednesday expressing their concern to Israeli-German Parliamentary Friendship Group chairman Nachman Shai (Zionist Union).
“We fear that the legislation will inflict serious damage to the democracy and reputation of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel,” they wrote.
“Hitherto, Israel has left no room for doubt about its democratic credentials. The new NGO legislation, by contrast, would constitute a massive assault on freedom of association and freedom of opinion.”
The German legislators warned the bill would marginalize activists and expose them to harassment and violence.
“No other Western country has comparable legislation in place. The type of legislation currently under discussion in Israel exists, as far as we are aware, solely in states such as Egypt, Turkey and Russia. Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East – has no place on this list,” they wrote.
The lawmakers says they believe the bill is meant to limit the influence of NGOs that criticize the Netanyahu government, and while they would not associate themselves with the statements and actions of some of the NGOs to which the measure would apply, they “are mindful that freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently.”
The German parliamentarians offered to explain to MKs why Germany supports civil society groups around the world, including in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“We are aware of the difficult situation facing the State of Israel, which, surrounded by hostility, war and terror, has never lost any of its democratic credentials, and we too are familiar with the difficult task of having to counter often prejudiced reporting.
At a time when there are calls, worldwide, for boycotts of Israel, we believe that upholding the high standards of Israeli democracy is imperative,” the deputies concluded.
Shai said in response to the letter that the NGO bill empties the term “Jewish and democratic” of all meaning.
“The world is concerned about Israeli democracy, which is crumbling from the inside,” he warned. “Legislation like this, which harms freedom of expression and association, only strengthens our critics and distances us from our greatest friends. We must prevent the law from passing.”