Knesset Law Committee okays controversial NGO funding bill

Chairman considers extending transparency requirement to donations by foreigners, and not just foreign state-funded groups.

David Rotem 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
David Rotem 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
After an emotional two-hour debate, the Knesset Law Committee on Monday approved a bill for first reading in the plenum calling for greater transparency on donations by foreign states and foreign state-funded institutions to Israeli NGOs.
The bill, which was initiated by a group of right-wing MKs headed by Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), was primarily aimed at human rights and political organizations such as Peace Now, which critics accuse of supporting the Palestinian cause and being anti-Israel.
Committee members including Elkin, Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) and Avraham Michaeli (Shas) said the bill would increase transparency by compelling NGOs to report all funding received from foreign state entities once every three months. Only Orbach admitted that the bill had been motivated by political considerations.
Critics of the bill, including Dov Henin and Hanna Sweid, both of Hadash, Haim Oron (Meretz) and Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said the bill was selective and demanded that it be applied to all groups receiving foreign funding, regardless of whether it came from foreign state entities or private individuals, including Jewish donors.
Plesner said the amount of money given by European states does not compare with the funds contributed by Evangelical organizations, which are motivated by the theological vision of a cataclysmic war that would lead to the second coming of the messiah.
“There is money coming to Israel from hallucinatory organizations,” he said.
Oron, who for several years tried to find out who had financially supported the projects of Jewish settlement organizations in Jerusalem, including Ateret Cohanim and Elad, said he could not do so because the money had been given by individuals whose names could not be divulged. “With this private money, the world is being changed,” he said
During the hearing, committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) appeared to drop a bombshell when he announced that he would change the bill’s wording in preparation for its second and third (final) readings so as to include all donations, whether from private individuals or foreign state entities, above a given sum.
“The bill will not pass a second and third reading unless it applies to all contributions,” Rotem said at one point in the debate, repeating the statement toward the end.
However, in a statement issued by his spokesman later in the day, Rotem said he would “consider” adding transparency regarding funding from private citizens to the bill.
In the same statement, he pointed out that some, including Bar-Ilan University law professor Yaffa Zilbershatz, had warned that nonpolitical organizations such as universities received donations from individuals who insisted on anonymity. If the bill is extended to include private foreign donors, she said, these contributions could be jeopardized.
The Jerusalem Post asked Rotem’s spokesman, Yair Paz, whether comments made by the chairman during the debate and in his statement afterward indicated that he had changed his mind about amending the legislation to cover private funding. Paz said it should be remembered that Rotem had made the promise to do so in the heat of dialogue with Henin and other critics of the current draft.
The bill will be presented to the plenum after the summer recess ends in October. It is almost certain to pass and be sent back to the law committee to prepare it for a final reading. At that point, Rotem will have to decide where he stands on the opposition’s demand to increase transparency to private as well as foreign state donors.