A new version of a controversial bill aims to limit the foreign funding of non-government organizations that support the prosecution of IDF officers in the international courts or campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions or products.
MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Robert Ilatov (Likud-Beytenu) are sponsoring the bill, submitted to the Knesset on Tuesday, which specifies a limit of NIS 20,000 ($5,500) in funding from foreign government entities if an NGO falls foul of certain limitations on its activities.
“Even today, foreign governments, through their support of extremist organizations, are involved in the unrelenting efforts to destroy the Jewish and democratic character of Israel,” Shaked said.
In explaining the need for the law, Shaked wrote that NGO activities are distorting Israeli democracy by giving a greater voice to the interests of foreign governments than to those of the Israeli public.
“This country belongs first and foremost to its citizens, who choose, by participating in its political process, its leadership and character,” she said. “We won’t allow foreign governments to take the wheel and drive us down a road that leads to the brink of a precipice.”
The bill, whose previous iteration came to be known as the “NGO law,” is based on reports from the right-wing Im Tirzu organization that revealed the extent of foreign state funding of NGOs which, among other things, advocate prosecuting IDF soldiers and boycotting Israeli institutions and products.
If passed in its current form the law would forbid NGOs and their employees from directly or indirectly calling for the prosecution of IDF soldiers in the international courts; supporting boycott, divestment, or sanction measures against Israel and its citizens; rejecting Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state; engaging in racial incitement; or supporting the armed struggle of an enemy state or terror organization against Israel.
NGOs that cross the lines laid out in the suggested legislation would face a capping of financial aid from abroad.
The bill is based on two proposals from 2011 that never made it to the Knesset floor. Then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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.
“Right-wing MKs are determined to destroy democracy in Israel,” Meretz chair MK Zahava Gal-on Tuesday, arguing that the bill would marginalize Israel in the international community. “If the right has its way, Israel will become an abominable and hated pariah, isolated and ostracized.”
Gal-on said that NGOs rely on foreign funding because they wish to remain impartial when criticizing the government, something they could not do if they took money from the state.
The bill gained a surprising opponent in NGO Monitor, a watchdog that reports on the foreign funding and activities of non-government groups.
“Transparency and accountability for powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are essential parts of the Israeli democratic discourse and policy debate,” read a statement sent to The Times of Israel by Lenny Ben-David, NGO Monitor’s director of communications. “However, as NGO Monitor has repeatedly stated, legislative proposals that go beyond transparency and suggest distinctions based on political motivations and ideology are polarizing, not enforceable, and damage Israel’s vital national interests.”
Ben-David further said that countering “NGO political warfare against Israel” required “detailed information and analysis, transparency, diplomacy that confronts European governments and other enablers, and informed public debate on the substantive issues.”