The Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on Monday approved a softened version of the controversial NGO transparency bill for a second and third reading.
According to the final draft of the bill, representatives of organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign states will not be forced to wear special tags in the Knesset, as was originally stipulated, and the law will only apply to donations received from January 2017. Earlier drafts had suggested the law be applied retroactively.
The proposed legislation stipulates that the organizations will need to note their funding sources on letters to public officials and in advertisements, but omits the requirement to list their funding in appeals to Israeli courts. The organizations, before they appear in Knesset hearings, will also have to update the lawmakers on their foreign funding, but won’t need to testify to that effect during the meetings. The groups, primarily left-wing human rights groups, must report their funding sources to the national NGO registry, which, in turn, is required to make that information public.
In the final committee meeting on Monday, opposition lawmakers objected to the final draft on the grounds that it unfairly targets left-wing groups and should extend to private donors as well, a request that has been rejected by the coalition.
Citing former prime minister Ehud Barak, who recently railed against the “seeds of fascism” that are “infecting” Israel, Yesh Atid MK Yael German maintained: “This law is one of these seeds.”
Zionist Union MK Revital Swid said the law “has nothing in it except for political gain.
“You are causing irreparable harm to Israel’s international image,” she charged.
“Nissan, I know you, you’re ashamed of this law,” Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern admonished the committee chair, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, asserting that it “creates corruption.”
Meretz MK Michal Rozin on Monday denounced the “persecution.”
“It’s a small law by small people,” she added.
With a coalition majority in the committee, the panel rejected all the objections to the bill and approved it for final votes.
Critics say the bill singles out left-wing groups, as right-wing organizations are primarily funded by private donors, and is a veiled effort to silence organizations that are often critical of Israeli government policy. Based on current donations, the law would apply to 25 nongovernmental institutions, 23 of which are left-wing.
But proponents of the bill say it merely improves transparency, and that while forcing the organizations to disclose their funding, it does not restrict their activities.
US and European officials expressed opposition to the bill after it passed its first reading in February.