Jewish Home revives bill limiting foreign funds for left-wing groups
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Jewish Home revives bill limiting foreign funds for left-wing groups

Legislator says law meant to ‘maintain Israel’s identity as a sovereign state’ and prevent bowing to international pressure

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Knesset plenum, May 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Knesset plenum, May 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Knesset member Yinon Magal (Jewish Home) on Tuesday presented a new version of a controversial bill aiming to limit foreign funding for organizations that support the prosecution of IDF officers in international courts or campaign for boycotts of Israeli institutions or products.

The proposed legislation stipulates that Israeli non-government organizations receiving funding from foreign governments of over $50,000 will pay a 37 percent tax on the contribution, the Walla news site reported. The bill also adds that Israeli government ministries and the army must avoid collaboration with such NGOs.

“It is important to remember that the law is supposed to maintain our identity as a sovereign state that acts according to the will of the majority and not the agendas of foreign governments or on behalf of organizations that spend tens of millions in order to tarnish our reputation,” Magal said, according to Walla.

The bill, Magel continued, aimed to “make it difficult for those organizations that voluntarily serve the perceptions of foreign governments, those organizations that submit information to the haters of Israel, who make a fortune from tattling on settlers and IDF soldiers and slander Israel’s name in the world.”

Magal’s bill is based on two proposals from 2011 that never made it to the Knesset floor. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had insisted that the proposals be merged into a single bill that would distinguish between left-wing NGOs and human rights NGOs. Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein opposed the proposals because, he said, they impinged on freedom of speech and laws of equality.

Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal at the president's residence in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The NGO bill was again pushed in 2013 by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked, who now serves as justice minister, and Yisrael Beytenu’s Robert Ilatov.

Asked whether he believed the bill in its current form would be signed into law, despite the numerous setbacks in the past, Magel replied that this time “the justice minister’s name is Ayelet Shaked, not [Zionist Union MK and former justice minister] Tzipi Livni, and this is a significant difference,” Walla reported.

The bill’s reintroduction comes one day after the publication of a United Nations Human Rights Council report on last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and the Gaza-based group Hamas. The report, roundly condemned by Israeli officials, accused both sides of possible war crimes. The commission, headed by American jurist Mary McGowan Davis, heard testimony and received information regarding the war from several Israeli NGOs.

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that the bill was a fitting response to the UN report. “In many cases, sources on which the United Nations report is based come from [left-leaning Israeli NGOs] such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence,” Bennett said during an address to the Knesset plenary.

“I visited the website of the [left-leaning Israeli NGO] New Israel Fund and I saw that the B’Tselem organization was nominated for a prize for social change, and for what? For reading out the names of Gaza children killed during Operation Protective Edge,” Bennett continued,

“What do we have to complain to the world about, when we are so good at abusing ourselves?”

Last month, Breaking the Silence, a group whose members are veteran IDF combatants who report, mostly anonymously, about alleged abuses they witnessed or took part in during their military service in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, angered the military establishment by publishing a report accusing the army of having caused an unprecedented number of civilian casualties through indiscriminate force during Operation Protective Edge. The IDF responded to the rights group’s report by saying it was “committed to properly investigating” all claims against it, but also cautioned that Breaking the Silence’s method of gathering evidence was faulty.

In this Monday, July 21, 2014 file photo, Israeli soldiers patrol the town of Sderot after a group of Hamas terrorists was detected infiltrating into Israel (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
In this Monday, July 21, 2014, file photo, Israeli soldiers patrol the town of Sderot after a group of Hamas terrorists was detected infiltrating into Israel (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Representatives of the Israeli NGO earlier this month met with White House and State Department officials over the group’s report on alleged Israeli violations in the Gaza Strip.

Since the NGO was founded in 2004 by soldiers who served in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, it has regularly locked horns with Israeli political leaders and military brass, who accuse it of harming Israel’s image abroad.

Gaza-based sources claimed 2,100 Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands more left homeless as the IDF battled against Hamas in the coastal enclave. Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, maintains that almost half the Palestinians killed were combatants and that the high civilian toll in Gaza was due to fighters there embedding their military infrastructure in residential areas.

Illustrative photo of Palestinians walking past the ruins of a mosque after that was hit by an Israeli missile strike, in the central Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Illustrative photo of Palestinians walking past the ruins of a mosque after that was hit by an Israeli missile strike, in the central Gaza Strip (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Earlier this month, Israel’s newly appointed deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely said she was determined to prevent a Breaking the Silence exhibit from opening in Zurich, ordering both the ministry and Israel’s embassy in Bern to examine ways of preventing it, ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP.

“We cannot accept the actions of an organization whose aim is to smear soldiers in the Israeli army in the international arena and to cause serious harm to Israel’s image,” he said. Israel’s ambassador had voiced his “indignation” to the Swiss foreign ministry, Nahshon said.

Nevertheless, the exhibit, which sheds light on the day-to-day reality of life in the West Bank, opened as planned.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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