In shadow of ugly US election, Israel’s NGO finance bill to get makeover
search

In shadow of ugly US election, Israel’s NGO finance bill to get makeover

Likud MK warns that without law to cap donations for political bodies, Israel’s next campaigns will resemble those of America

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

V15 activists convene at their campaign offices in Jerusalem on February 09, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
V15 activists convene at their campaign offices in Jerusalem on February 09, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Knesset’s House Committee and and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will be redrafting the so-called V-15 bill, which would cap donations to non-governmental organizations advancing political initiatives during elections. The legislation seeks to impose an NIS 11,000 limit per person, and require groups to spell out their activities and financing to the state ombudsman.

In a joint committee meeting on Tuesday, Likud MK Yoav Kisch appeared amenable to softening the contested bill, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle engaged in hand-wringing over the US elections, its deep-pocketed Super PACs, and the role of donors in swaying an election.

“My analysis, my view, is: If this law does not take shape, the next election will be an American [styled] election. And the question is whether you want that or not. That’s the question that this committee needs to debate,” Kisch said. “I am opposed to this and… therefore I see [the proposed law] as significant.”

The committee session on the bill came two weeks after the state comptroller cleared the V-15 grassroots organization of any inappropriate political meddling during the 2015 election, as the Likud party has suggested. State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote that there was no indication that the group, for whom the bill was named (though it has since disbanded and rebranded as “Darkenu,”) had any connection to any specific political party.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch attends a discussion regarding a legislation deferring mandatory haredi conscription until 2023, at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in the Israel parliament. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Likud MK Yoav Kisch attends a discussion regarding a legislation deferring mandatory haredi conscription until 2023, at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in the Israel parliament. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

But in July, a US Senate bipartisan inquiry, led by senators Bob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), found that some $350,000 (NIS 1.3 million) in US government funds given to the OneVoice group were indirectly used to help organize voter outreach efforts of V15. That probe found no illegal activity in funding the OneVoice group, though its report chided the State Department for having failed to prevent state funds being used, albeit legally and indirectly, to influence an allied country’s internal political process.

Right-wing lawmakers had pointed to the US inquiry to bolster support for the controversial legislation, but on Sunday, with recommendations from MKs, the Israel Democracy Institute, and the committee’s legal adviser, it appeared the bill would undergo considerable revision before its first reading in the plenum. Kisch said he would evaluate the recommendations and redraft the bill in 10 days, ahead of another committee meeting.

Several MKs from the opposition, and several United Torah Judaism MKs, voiced concern the legislation would impinge on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson, meanwhile, recommended revamping the law entirely to focus on transparency, rather than punitive measures against the groups that engage in political activism.

“The public will know, who donated, who funded, how it came about, what the interests surrounding it are,” said Hasson.

“Like in the United States, a Super Pac,” volunteered Kisch. “It’s all transparent… but everyone puts their money where they want.”

But the US legal precedent appeared to be losing credibility among some the lawmakers in the wake of the scandal-ridden US election.

United Torah Judiasm MK Yisrael Eichler said he was glad the issue was being raised now, “while we are all undergoing the trauma of Trump and Clinton, which shows how there is no democracy in the matter of electing an American president.”

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“It’s all money,” he said. “Here [in Israel], they would go to prison” over requests by donors to advance certain initiatives, opined Eichler.

“It’s unbelievable. If I were an American citizen today, I’d be very sad about the fact that there is no president that I want,” he said.

Joint (Arab) List MK Osama Sa’adi also expressed incredulity that FBI director James Comey would present information on a new Hillary Clinton probe just ahead of the election, telling those present that “if that happened here, we all know how that would end.”

The committee’s legal adviser said the proposed limit on individual donations was too low, and maintained the proposal that any organization that spends NIS 100,000 on electioneering fall under the category of a “body active in the election” was problematic. The adviser suggested a larger cap for both.

The Israel Democracy Institute also presented a legal opinion at the meeting, urging some regulations on these organizations, but no fixed limits on donations or spending. It also advocated a gradual implementation of any regulations, additional research on the nature and scope of these organizations, and boosted transparency requirements for political groups.

The committees will reconvene to discuss a revised V15 bill on November 11.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
comments