Legal expert: NGO bill damaging to one side of political map

Knesset judicial adviser highlights clauses demanding groups name foreign donors, wear special tags in parliament

Constitution Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Nissan Slomiansky, a meeting in the Knesset, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Constitution Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Nissan Slomiansky, a meeting in the Knesset, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A recent report by the legal adviser to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee criticizes key aspects of the so-called NGO bill, warning that they have a direct impact on just one side of the political map.

The legislation demand that non-government organizations reveal funding they receive from foreign political bodies, and that members of such groups wear tags identifying themselves when inside the Knesset.

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.

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.

According to the bill, any NGO receiving over 50 percent of its money from a foreign government must include details of its funding in all official and promotional documents, including online.

But, the adviser’s report noted, given that the bill aims “to increase transparency and seeks to identify the sources funding activities of organizations, there is no reason to differentiate between donations from foreign political bodies and donations from another foreign source,” Channel 2 reported Tuesday.

When it comes down to the influence that groups can have on a country’s agenda, the legal report said, “there is also an interest in knowing about donations from non-political foreign sources.”

“Therefore a requirement to declare foreign sources that are not political should also be considered,” the adviser wrote.

Regarding the possible impact of forced identity tags, the report noted that “as long as the wearing of identity tags is demanded only of representatives from NGOs on one side of the political map, it is likely to ‘mark’ the representative of the NGO as someone who has an inappropriate ability to influence or put an NGO that wants to promote an issue at a priori disadvantage to other similar NGOs that aren’t required to mark their representatives.”

The head of the Constitution Law and Justice Committee, MK Nissan Slomiansky of the right-wing Jewish Home party, told Channel 2 in response that the bill was sound, and nonetheless would pass in the Knesset.

“Despite the legal opinion, this a fitting bill,” he said. “It will pass because our central goal is that a foreign state shouldn’t become involved in internal matters in Israel by transferring money to NGOs that are acting as fifth column.”

The legislation, which has been criticized by European and American officials, passed in its first reading in February.

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