Knesset vote due on controversial NGO transparency bill

Knesset vote due on controversial NGO transparency bill

Dozens of lawmakers queue up to speak about proposal at center of firestorm over democratic values

File: Justice Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press in Tel Aviv on January 11, 2016. (Flash90)
File: Justice Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press in Tel Aviv on January 11, 2016. (Flash90)

The first reading of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s controversial NGO transparency legislation was set to take place Monday in the Knesset.

Dozens of Knesset members expressed their desire to participate in the debate, ensuring it would last several hours, the Israel Hayom news site reported.

The proposed legislation, due for its first of three votes, aims to force non-governmental groups that receive more than half of their funding from foreign states to publicize details of their funding in all official and promotional documents and online.

Critics in Israel and overseas say it singles out left-wing groups, since right-wing organizations are primarily funded by private donors, and that it is a veiled effort to silence those organizations, which are often critical of Israeli government policies.

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.

“The proposed rule in Israel on disclosure of NGOs is not anti-democratic. It’s transparency, which is the heart of democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month. “I think when you hear of the use and abuse of NGOs here, that’s the least that we want, transparency, and I think that it’s much warranted. I think it’s just common sense.”

The bill’s first reading was postponed in January because of predicted snow storms, then pulled from the agenda on February 1 because of a Knesset schedule overload.

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