To combat BDS, coalition aims to block foreign gov't funding of political NGOs

Prime Minister Netanyahu is pushing the bill to shut down Breaking the Silence and Israel boycotters.

Employees work at the offices of Breaking the Silence in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Employees work at the offices of Breaking the Silence in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The coalition is working on legislation that would prevent foreign governments from donating to political NGOs, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said Tuesday.
The proposal is a new tactic in the coalition’s legislative fight against NGOs that call for boycotts or seek to put IDF soldiers on trial for war crimes, with a bill that goes to the source of their funding, as opposed to the organizations themselves.
“Last year’s bill was about transparency, and now we have to deal with the donations,” Bitan said, referring to the 2016 law that required NGOs that receive most of their foreign funding from political entities to say so in all of their publications.
Foreign governments “can donate to hospitals, but not to political organizations. We will require certain processes in order for the donations to go through,” Bitan said.
The vast majority of organizations that are primarily funded by foreign governments – 25 of 27 NGOs listed by the Justice Ministry in 2016 – are left-wing.
The initiative is still in early discussions and has yet to be drafted, and therefore the exact criteria for what kinds of organizations may accept donations from foreign political entities have not been determined.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked with coming up with a more stringent law in relation to foreign government funding of NGOs, was more circumspect than Bitan in describing the proposal.
“It’s very complicated, because, for example, a state could give money to an NGO abroad, and then that organization can give to an NGO in Israel. Or funding to a joint project by several NGOs. And how do you define political? It’s not a simple story. We don’t know how we’ll do it yet,” he said.
Levin predicted that the final bill will be very narrow in its scope, in order not to harm NGOs that don’t fall under the government’s definition of harmful.
The coalition is also planning to propose a bill that would shut down any organization that seeks to harm IDF soldiers or try them in foreign courts, as well as NGOs that promote a boycott of Israel or any area in its controls, meaning that it would apply to settlement boycotts.
Levin said the government wants “to prohibit activities that any other country wouldn’t allow... In my eyes, it doesn’t matter where the funding comes from, whether from a private person or a state, if you’re doing these things. These activities cannot be allowed.
“In any normal country, people who behave in this way would be put on trial for treason; it’s only in Israel that they’re not,” Levin added. “It’s bizarre.”
Earlier this week, the coalition unanimously agreed to launch a two-pronged attack on foreign funding of political NGOs, consisting of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into “the involvement of foreign governments in the funding of political organizations and activities to harm IDF soldiers,” and legislation that will be more stringent than the 2016 law.
Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from former IDF soldiers claiming war crimes and airs them, most of the time with the soldiers remaining anonymous, around the world, was reportedly singled out as a target of these moves.
Netanyahu has said that he considers such political funding to be foreign intervention into Israel’s internal affairs.
“There is no more moral army than the IDF – that’s a fact. Therefore, we made this important decision today,” Netanyahu said on Sunday about the commission of inquiry. “Our soldiers protect us, and we will protect them.”
Despite the prime minister’s public statements and the support of all coalition party leaders, Levin thought the commission of inquiry was a non-starter, because it will have to go through several votes in the Knesset before it can begin any work.
He also expressed concern that it will be an obstacle to passing bills to fight the NGOs.
Breaking the Silence’s executive director Avner Gvaryahu said his organization “is here to stay, now and after Netanyahu.” He argued that the “persecution” of his NGO is a distraction from the investigations into alleged corruption by Netanyahu.
“This is yet another pitiful witch-hunt from a rightwing government that knows its days are numbered,” he said. “Yet again, Netanyahu chooses to use IDF soldiers, who have broken the silence and oppose the occupation, as a human shield, deflecting the consequences of his own criminal entanglements. Neither a commission of inquiry nor legislation will deter us. There is only one way to stop Breaking the Silence: End the occupation.”