Rivlin: New NGO bill shows politicians 'going crazy'

Begin advises caution, as rumors cause diplomatic harm; opposition says new legislation still anti-democratic.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Channel)
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin slammed a new version of the NGO bill on Thursday, saying that it was an indication of politicians “going crazy.”
The new bill, a combination of proposals by MKs Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), limits foreign government donations to NGOs by dividing them into three categories with different standards for taxation and capping contributions.
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Likud sources said on Wednesday night that the bill had resulted from a compromise between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; however, the Prime Minister’s Office had yet to make a public statement on the matter.
Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin was skeptical that Netanyahu had actually agreed to the new version, as the prime minister’s advisers had told him on Thursday afternoon that Netanyahu had yet to read the bill.
“We need to be careful [discussing the NGO bill],” he said. “All of this is adding noise to the system and is causing us harm on the international stage.”
Rivlin, meanwhile, declared that “the public is already oversaturated and tired from these initiatives.”
“It seems like there are some MKs that do not rest for a minute and want to bring chaos, because of immediate political needs,” he said, quipping that “whoever wants to go crazy, can go crazy.”
The Knesset speaker said that in his opinion, the new proposal was just as inappropriate as the previous one.
“This doesn’t solve any problems. It makes them worse by forming a political committee in the Knesset to regulate opinions and ideas,” he stated.
Rivlin said the bill was a “bad idea, because a state that creates political commissars is not a true democracy.”
According to the new version of the proposed legislation, organizations that reject Israel’s right to exist, call for boycotts of the state or tell IDF soldiers to refuse orders, among other actions, may not receive any funding from foreign governments.
Political NGOs will have to pay a 45-percent tax on such donations, unless the Knesset Finance Committee decides to waive the tax following a hearing.
Non-political organizations that receive state funding will be tax-exempt and may receive unlimited donations from foreign governments.
“Many organizations in Israel set a goal for themselves to condemn the State of Israel before the world and persecute IDF soldiers and officers by sullying their good name,” explain Akunis and Kirschenbaum in the bill’s text. “These organizations, which often call themselves ‘human rights organizations,’ are funded by states and anonymous sources that seek to harm and change the political public discourse in Israel.”
The two point to Israeli NGOs’ cooperation with the Goldstone Report as an example of foreign government contributions being used to harm Israel.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence Party took a more cautious stance on the bill, with faction chairman Einat Wilf saying that “the values the new NGO bill seeks to promote are acceptable and important. However, we must ensure that they are implemented equally in every NGO, whether on the Right or Left.”
She added that “the bill must be fixed so that it forbids any foreign element – private or governmental – from supporting an Israeli NGO that encourages evading IDF service or subverting the State of Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state or inciting to racism.”
Wilf also said the Independence faction opposed bringing NGOs to a hearing before the Knesset Finance Committee, calling the idea “inappropriate.”
Opposition MKs slammed the bill, also saying that the new version was not significantly different from its predecessor.
“This isn’t a real change, it’s cosmetic,” said MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima). “This is just an attempt to make it seem more moderate, following public criticism.”
He called the legislation “part of a group of bills that are meant to limit freedom of expression and organization. The government is attacking anyone who opposes it.”
MK Nachman Shai, also of Kadima, said that “the new NGO bill is cutting off Israeli democracy’s wings. These limitations will harm the independence and freedom of action of Israeli civil society.”
He warned that “there is no democracy without a live, active civil society.”
“This is the same ugly wolf in a different sheep’s clothing,” Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel said. “When someone walks like a fascist and talks like a fascist, he’s a fascist, even if he wears a democratic mask.”
Cabel called for Netanyahu to “bang on the table and stop this political bullying, without compromises.”
“That is what a real leader would do,” he added, “but Netanyahu is a prime minister who is ruled by the right-wing margins of the crazy coalition he formed.”
Meretz MKs also slammed the bill, with MK Zehava Gal-On stating that “the witch hunt continues.”
She said the new version was even worse than the original, “because it accuses and punishes organizations that criticize the government without a trial.”
“I call for the prime minister to put this bill in the freezer and stop embarrassing the State of Israel with his party’s bizarre legislation, which is inspired by Lieberman,” she declared.
“The Bibi-Lieberman coalition continues to trample and destroy democracy in Israel,” fellow Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz said. “The ‘new’ NGO bill is still trying to dry out civil organizations.”