Bill barring national service at left-wing NGOs passes first Knesset vote
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Bill barring national service at left-wing NGOs passes first Knesset vote

Likud-proposed legislation comes after Israeli human rights group B'Tselem criticizes Israel's settlement policy at UN

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Likud MK Amir Ohana attends a Knesset debate on December 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Likud MK Amir Ohana attends a Knesset debate on December 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A bill that would ban national service volunteers from working with Israeli organizations that receive the majority of their funding from abroad, namely left-wing human rights groups, passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

The bill, which passed 49-29, comes after the B’Tselem organization raised the ire of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing lawmakers over its criticism of Israel’s settlement policy at the United Nations Security Council earlier this year.

Having passed its preliminary Knesset reading, the bill, proposed by Likud MK Amir Ohana, must pass three additional plenum votes before becoming law.

The legislation enjoys coalition support and is expected to pass the additional readings.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Twitter on Wednesday that she was “very proud” to support the legislation.

Ohana’s bill targets organizations that get more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments, and would change the law of national service — undertaken by some young Israelis as an alternative to mandatory military service — in order to bar B’Tselem from the list of organizations approved for volunteer work.

B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad speaks to the UN Security Council on October 14, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad speaks to the UN Security Council on October 14, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Netanyahu vowed he would stop the B’Tselem receiving national service volunteers, after director Hagai El-Ad in October called on the UN to take action against Israel over its West Bank settlement policies.

Denouncing the “invisible, bureaucratic daily violence” that dominates Palestinian life “from cradle to grave,” El-Ad’s remarks drew fierce condemnation in Israel, including from coalition chairman David Bitan who at the time called for El-Ad to be stripped of his citizenship for criticizing Israel at the UN.

B’Tselem, along with other left-leaning NGOs in Israel, has been accused in the past of working to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by lobbying international forums.

The organization uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after he carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values. Azaria is on trial for manslaughter.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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