Netanyahu vows Knesset push to limit NGOs’ foreign funding

PM says it’s ‘not right’ for groups to receive unlimited donations from other countries; also aims to pass Jewish state law by summer

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on June 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on June 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday confirmed the government would formulate a new bill restricting foreign government funding to Israeli organizations, significantly ratcheting up pressure on left-wing groups critical of Israeli policies.

At the weekly Likud faction meeting, the prime minister announced he had instructed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) to spearhead the proposal, which would primarily apply to left-wing human rights groups, many of which receive the bulk of their funding from foreign states.

“There is no limit on money funneled to all sorts of organizations, which among other things, defame IDF soldiers, ” he said. “The situation is, in my opinion, not right.”

In July 2016, the government passed into law a hotly contested NGO bill, which forces non-governmental organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign countries to disclose this information on public documents. The NGO law was opposed by the US, and condemned by various European countries.

That law “was about transparency” but further limitations are necessary, Netanyahu said Monday, indicating the new measure will clamp down on how much money the groups may receive.

The measure will only apply to foreign government funding and not donations from individuals. He did not provide other details about the bill.

The prime minister also said Monday he intends to pass into law a bill that would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish nation-state in its Basic Laws during the current Knesset session, which ends July 31. The “Jewish state” bill — authored by Likud MK Avi Dichter — passed a preliminary reading in May.

The new NGO proposal comes as Netanyahu stepped up his objections against these organizations in meetings with foreign leaders. In April, Netanyahu canceled on short notice a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over the latter’s refusal to abort a planned meeting with Breaking the Silence, an organization that documents alleged abuses by IDF soldiers against Palestinians.

At a Likud faction meeting in late May, Netanyahu defended his new policy of shunning foreign leaders who meet with left-leaning NGOs, which Israel accuses of setting up Israeli soldiers for future prosecution in foreign tribunals.

“You can meet me. But you cannot meet with these organizations and also meet with me,” he said, adding that this message is sinking in. “Our soldiers protect us. And we will protect them,” he added.

Netanyahu on Sunday reportedly also told coalition leaders he would advance legislation curtailing the ability of many left-wing advocacy groups to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the state and the IDF on behalf of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Walla news site reported.

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