NGOs defiant in the face of funding bill

Non-political groups worry they would also lose foreign gov’t money.

breaking the silence 311 (photo credit: Breaking the Silence, [illustrative])
breaking the silence 311
(photo credit: Breaking the Silence, [illustrative])
Pending legislation targeting foreign funding sources of political NGOs was met with a defiant tone on Monday by the director of Breaking the Silence, one of the more controversial organizations in the country.
Dana Golan, director of Breaking the Silence, which compiles testimonies from IDF soldiers who have served in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said on Monday, “In practice this isn’t something that will stop us; we weren’t founded because there is European funding.
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We started in 2004 with a group of discharged soldiers from the Nahal Brigade. Even if this door is closed we’ll open another one. This attempt to silence the dialogue we’ve started won’t succeed.”
Golan, who said that about 50 percent of the organization’s NIS 3 million annual budget comes from foreign governments or foreign government- supported funds, added that such a move would only cause more people to support the organization.
“To us it’s obvious. Every time there is anther new act of lunacy by Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman’s government, more people turn to us to volunteer, testify, help out.
From this perspective, we think it’s a good thing.”
Golan sees the legislation as “political persecution and an attempt to shut people up.”
They show the effectiveness of organizations such as Breaking the Silence, she said.
“The best way to protest these laws is to keep doing what we’re doing, because it seems to be working. If we weren’t irritating them so much, they wouldn’t be pursuing these laws against us.”
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave government backing to two bills – by a majority of 11 versus five – that will hinder the ability of foreign governments and their organizations to finance Israeli NGOs.
A bill proposed by Likud MK Ophir Akunis would ban foreign governments and international bodies supported by foreign governments from donating more than NIS 20,000 to what it refers to as political NGOs that seek to influence Israeli government policy. A second bill, which was proposed by MK Fania Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), would levy a 45 percent tax on donations made by foreign governments to NGOs in Israel.
Yael Aberman, spokesman for Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, said the bills, if they became law, could see the elimination of a third of the group’s NIS 3m. annual budget.
“A third of our budget comes from the European Union by way of an international project to support workers rights. If the law passes, we’ll be in a serious problem because we’ll have cover this deficit,” she said.
When asked how this deficit would play out, Aberman said, “We’ll be able to support fewer workers and do less of our work in support of legislation supporting workers rights.”
Aberman said her organization helps not only for Israelis, but also foreign workers, refugees and Palestinians employed in Israel.
If the law goes into effect, “it will affect all of our functions, including those that help Israeli workers,” she said.
The situation appears especially dire to Ishai Menuchin, the executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, who said his organization receives around 80% of its funding from the United Nations, the EU, and organizations supported by those two bodies.
The law would “force us to have to find different ways to operate, Menuchin said. But his
organization would not close down as a result.
When asked if his group was politically motivated, he responded, “You could say everything is political. We are for the social change of preventing torture, that’s all. We are against torture of Palestinians, Israelis, right-wingers, left-wingers, all torture that affects anyone regardless of religion, sex or nationality.”
Another organization that stands to lose funding as a result of the legislation is Achoti – For Women in Israel, which in addition to having private donors, gets money from foreign governments and organizations to run “female empowerment” programs, largely for women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
At the “fair trade” shop operated by Achoti in Shlomo Hamelech Street in central Tel Aviv, an employee named Ophir on Tuesday showed off arts and crafts made by women from the Beduin, Ethiopian and other impoverished communities.
While she was reluctant to speak on the record about how the legislation would affect the organization they became law, Ophir said “it will make it much harder for us to operate/ I don’t see how this will improve the State of Israel or is to our benefit.”