Bill to curb political NGO funding passes first hurdle
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Bill to curb political NGO funding passes first hurdle

Justice minister calls proposal an ’embarrassment to democracy’; legislation to be brought to preliminary vote, then revised

A V15 activist puts up a poster calling for a change in government. (screen capture: YouTube/Victory2015)
A V15 activist puts up a poster calling for a change in government. (screen capture: YouTube/Victory2015)

A bill capping foreign funding for NGOs seeking to influence Israeli elections passed its first legal hurdle on Sunday, even as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned the controversial legislation was “embarrassing” to Israel’s democracy.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the so-called “V15 law” — named for the foreign-funded group created during the last election to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — for a preliminary reading.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Likud MK Yoav Kisch, would ban any group that conducts polls, registers voters or advertises on the Internet or in the media, from accepting more than NIS 20,000 ($5,000) per month in foreign donations during the run-up to elections, Channel 2 reported earlier this month.

During the discussion of the bill last Wednesday, Shaked, who abstained from voting, said the “current version of the bill is an embarrassment to democracy,” the Walla news website reported. The bill will be brought to a preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum, but is then expected to undergo considerable revision in committee.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, before the Knesset votes on the proposed law requiring Left-wing foundations and organizations to reveal their sources of funding, on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks before the Knesset votes on the proposed law requiring left-wing foundations and organizations to reveal their sources of funding, on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The heads of the coalition parties agreed earlier Sunday to support the proposal in the preliminary vote. However, after Shaked’s opposition, the party leaders said that any further advancement of the bill would require additional meetings and a reformulation of the proposal.

The bill targets, among others, V15, a grassroots organization which, with foreign funding, unsuccessfully pushed to unseat Netanyahu during last year’s elections. It operated within a loophole in the law by not trying to get voters to vote for a specific party or candidate, but just against Netanyahu.

Since the elections, V15 has changed its name to Darkenu (Our Way).

Likud charged ahead of the March 2015 elections that the V15 group “operates with aid from radical leftist groups such as OneVoice and Molad, which are supported by millions of dollars flowing in from Europe [and] the United States,” and protested the “intervention by international actors who are interested in deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The new law would effectively cripple groups such as V15 — on both sides of the political spectrum — by depriving them of key funding, and the coalition party leaders seek to pass it into law so that it takes effect ahead of the next elections.

When Kisch announced the initiative earlier in March, Darkenu said it received hundreds of donations from Israelis in solidarity within hours, and poking fun at his name, sent the lawmaker a quiche marked “Thanks, Yoav.”

“This law won’t pass because in its substance it doesn’t pass any democratic standard,” Nimrod Dweck, one of the V15 group’s founders, told Channel 2 earlier in March. “It’s the hysterical response of a prime minister who sees that he’s dropping in the polls and is looking for his new spin, as if there are no tunnels, or intifada, or housing prices that are skyrocketing.”

Last year, the Likud party dropped a legal bid to bar the operations of the V15 organization, after party lawmakers admitted that there was insufficient evidence to prove the left-wing group had ties to the Zionist Union and its leader, Isaac Herzog, or to any other political faction.

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