State responds: Panels on NGOs could affect civil rights

Attorneys warn of the “chilling factor” that forming the commission may have on the activities of civil and human rights organizations.

The State Attorney’s Office responded Sunday to a high court petition filed a month ago by four human rights activists, calling on the court to cancel the Knesset parliamentary inquiry commissions charged with investigating funding of left-wing NGOs.
The state asked to be dropped from the petition, claiming that it is not a side to the dispute, as the government is not a statutory party to the commissions.
The State Attorney’s Office added that the petition should be disregarded because it was submitted prematurely, before the commission has been approved by the Knesset and before anyone knows if they will actually be approved by the plenum.
The state underplayed the importance of the commission, mentioning its lack of authority to summon witnesses, but it did warn of the “chilling factor” that forming the commission may have on the activities of civil and human rights organizations and on basic rights, like freedom of expression, the freedom to assemble and freedom of conscience, in general.
The proposal to form the commission, as well as an additional commission, charged with investigating the involvement of foreign governments and agencies in anti- Israel activities, both sponsored by Israel Beiteinu, was received in the Knesset last month amid severe criticism from lawmakers and activists.
The petitioners, represented by attorneys Linda Brier and Yossi Schwartz, argued in their petition that the commission violated the basic democratic principles of freedom of expression and freedom of occupation. They said that the decision to launch the inquiry commissions was made for political reasons.
Brier said she was delighted that the attorney- general shared her clients’ concern about the dangers the commissions posed to democracy and that they would be happy to drop the petition if the commissions were to be shelved.