The Knesset on Monday passed the first reading of a controversial NGO transparency bill which seeks to force groups to declare foreign funding.
The draft legislation passed with 50 lawmakers voting in favor and 43 against.
During a fierce debate in the Knesset ahead of the vote, MK Hanin Zoabi was removed from the podium after exceeding her allotted time. Zoabi defended her decision to meet last week with the families of Palestinian terrorists, speaking just hours after the Knesset ethics committee voted to suspend her and two other Arab MKs.
According to the draft legislation, any NGO receiving over 50% of its funding from a foreign government must publicize details of its funding in all official and promotional documents and online.
Critics in Israel and overseas say it singles out left-wing groups, since right-wing organizations are primarily funded by private donors, and that it is a veiled effort to silence those organizations, which are often critical of Israeli government policies.
Proponents of the bill say it merely improves transparency, and that while forcing the organizations to disclose their funding, it does not restrict their activities.
“The proposed rule in Israel on disclosure of NGOs is not anti-democratic. It’s transparency, which is the heart of democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month. “I think when you hear of the use and abuse of NGOs here, that’s the least that we want, transparency, and I think that it’s much warranted. I think it’s just common sense.”
The bill’s first reading was postponed in January because of predicted snow storms, then pulled from the agenda on February 1 because of a Knesset schedule overload.