Kulanu head says party will support controversial NGO bill

Moshe Kahlon declares his faction is satisfied with legislation despite it not requiring private funding reports

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 4, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 4, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Monday that his Kulanu party will support a controversial bill that would require nongovernmental groups to declare funding from foreign countries.

The so-called NGO bill, which was proposed by the cabinet, was unanimously passed last month by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, green-lighting coalition support for the measure, despite denunciations from lawmakers both in the opposition and within Kulanu.

Speaking at a press conference, Kahlon noted that he is not overly concerned with the bill, the Hebrew-language Haaretz website reported.

“I can manage with a version like this or like that,” he said. “The bill started in a certain form and came back in a form that we could live with, and we will support it.”

Almost all of the groups that will be affected by the bill identify with the political left, as those NGOs receive funding from foreign governments, whereas those on the political right are mainly funded by private donors, who are not subject to scrutiny by the bill.

Kulanu had initially demanded that the bill also require financial reports of funding from private sources — a stipulation that would have roped in many right-wing NGOs. However, although the demand was not met, Kulanu, which has 10 parliamentary seats, will still support the bill in the Knesset, Kahlon said.

In addition to publishing their foreign-funding sources, representatives of NGOs will also be required to wear an identification badge whenever they attend sessions in the Knesset that reflects their group’s foreign funding.

The bill would have NGO representatives wear a tag similar to those worn by lobbyists — or face a NIS 29,000 ($7,500) fine.

Proponents of the legislation contend that the funding of NGOs by mainly European governments amounts to interference in Israeli domestic matters and pushes foreign interests in the guise of human rights advocacy.

Critics say the bill unfairly targets left-leaning NGOs and groups critical of the government and warn it could deal a blow to Israel’s democratic character.

Following the ministerial committee approval, Kulanu party MK Michael Oren declared his opposition to the bill.

Oren, a former ambassador to the US and freshmen lawmaker, said he could not vote for the measure as it stood.

“As someone who has worked all his life to improve the foreign relations of the State of Israel, my conscience does not allow me to vote for the NGO bill as it is formulated today. As a member of the Knesset Constitution, [Law and Justice] Committee, I will exert all my parliamentary powers to have it changed,” he said at the time.

It was not clear if Oren maintained his opposition to the bill despite Kahlon’s assurance that the party would back it.

The bill needs to pass three votes in the Knesset before becoming law.

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