Dovish American, Israeli groups uniting to battle NGO bill
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Dovish American, Israeli groups uniting to battle NGO bill

‘Ad-hoc coalition’ planned against proposal that targets foreign government funding for nonprofits, source says

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Peace Now activists protest an NGO funding bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked outside her residence in Tel Aviv, December 26, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Peace Now activists protest an NGO funding bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked outside her residence in Tel Aviv, December 26, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Several progressive American organizations are opposing controversial legislation that would impose new regulations on Israeli NGOs that receive most of their funding from foreign governments.

A source familiar with the situation — who asked not to be named — told The Times of Israel that plans are in the works to form an “ad hoc coalition” of both American and Israeli left-wing groups to attempt to block the bill from becoming law.

The groups mentioned include: Americans for Peace Now, B’Tselem, J Street, New Israel Fund and Rabbis for Human Rights, among others.

Since Sunday, when the bill advanced in the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund have not been shy to publicly condemn the measure, describing it as an attempt to undermine left-wing NGOs, and a threat to Israel’s democratic foundation.

“I think it’s an attempt for this right-wing governing coalition to silence voices of dissent and to marginalize them as a way of delegitimizing the work that they do,” Jessica Rosenblum, vice president of communications for J Street, told The Times of Israel.

The cabinet-sponsored bill requires NGOs to declare funding from foreign countries and to annotate such information on all official documents. It also requires representatives of these NGOs to wear a badge in the Knesset — similar to what lobbyists wear — identifying their group’s source of foreign funding or face a financial penalty of NIS 29,000 ($7,500).

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the nationalist Jewish Home party, who proposed the bill, cited Sunday’s vote as a victory for transparency, saying it “labels the foreign interest of different states, which seek to enable NGOs here, and in whose name they give hundreds of millions of shekels.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party seen at a party meeting in the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party seen at a party meeting in the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

But critics in Israel and abroad, including opposition lawmakers, human rights, civil society activists and foreign diplomats say the proposal unfairly targets left-wing groups who do not toe the government’s line.

J Street’s Rosenblum dismissed Shaked’s claim about transparency and said the bill is intended to “single out groups that dissent official Israeli government policy.”

Citing existing laws in place that require NGOs to report donations from foreign governments, Ori Nir, director of communications at Americans for Peace Now, articulated a similar sense of incredulity.

“The reason it doesn’t have to do with transparency is that all these organizations already are transparent,” he told The Times of Israel. “All NGOs have to reveal who their funders are to the Ministry of Justice.”

Nir noted the law enacted in 2011 that mandates NGOs to report any funding from foreign governments on a quarterly basis, which was seen then as largely a response to a 2009 United Nations report. The report, which accused Israel of war crimes, included research by left-wing NGOs.

On Sunday, Shaked invoked that sentiment, saying Israelis “all saw how the report by the UN’s commission of inquiry on war crimes during Operation Protective Edge was based on testimony by Israeli non-governmental organizations such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Adalah.”

Though the bill won the coalition’s backing with Sunday’s vote, it still must pass three readings in the Knesset, where it is expected to face an uphill climb before becoming law.

Naomi Paiss, vice president for public affairs at the New Israel Fund, said her organization will be taking a three-pronged approach to opposing the bill as it moves through the Knesset: raising awareness, asking leaders involved with other groups to help raise awareness and to strongly support activists in Israel who are working against the bill.

“Passage of this legislation is not a done deal at all, and we are going to pour our resources into fighting it,” she told The Times of Israel.

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