New bill aims to charge left-wing NGOs to access public information
search

New bill aims to charge left-wing NGOs to access public information

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli’s proposal would exclude foreign-funded groups from Freedom of Information Law, charge them $5 per request

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli during a Knesset committee meeting, August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli during a Knesset committee meeting, August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In the latest in a series of legislative efforts to limit the activities of left-leaning NGOs, lawmakers have proposed a new bill that would make it harder for such groups to access government information under the Freedom of Information Law.

In the proposal spearheaded by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, groups that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments will be excluded from the current law allowing NGOs to access information from government agencies for free. To receive the information, these organizations would be charged double the normal NIS 20 ($5) per request, under the proposed legislation.

“The law is based on the premise that they [the organizations] are working for the public good,” Moalem-Refaeli said in a statement Sunday. “However, radical left-wing groups are using the information in order to attack the State of Israel.”

According to Moalem-Refaeli, the existing law was not intended to allow groups to access the information in order to criticize government policy.

Lawmakers vote on the NGO bill in the Knesset plenum, July 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Lawmakers vote on the NGO bill in the Knesset plenum, July 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Israeli taxpayers do not need to carry the financial burden of distributing this information to hostile groups funded by the European Union and foreign countries,” she said.

The proposal, which has been officially presented to the Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation ahead of a preliminary vote in the plenary, is based on the controversial “NGO law” passed last year mandating that NGOs that receive more than half their funds from foreign governments or state agencies disclose that fact in any public reports, advocacy literature and interactions with government officials, or face a fine.

Nearly all the roughly two dozen existing Israeli organizations affected by those rules belong to the left, including human rights watchdogs B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Zochrot.

Moalem-Refaeli’s bill uses the same formula to determine which groups would be affected.

In a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, the Movement for the Freedom of Information, a group that works to implement the Freedom of Information Law by submitting petitions on behalf of journalists and NGOs, asked that he block a vote on the legislation.

“In a democratic country money cannot be a barrier to fulfilling a right that is granted to every citizen and resident by law. Laws like this embarrass us, the citizens of Israel, and stand in contravention to the values on which the country was founded,” Nirit Blayer, the group’s head, wrote.

A still from an ad accusing Israeli activists of being foreign funded 'moles.' (screen capture: Facebook)
A still from an ad accusing Israeli activists of being foreign funded ‘moles.’ (screen capture: Facebook)

The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, which has accused left-wing human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries to sabotage Israel’s counter-terror efforts, came out in support of the new bill.

“The goal of the law is to limit the anti-democratic intervention of European governments within Israel that is sustained by Israeli groups with foreign agendas,” Im Tirtzu chair Matan Peleg said in a statement.

“Whoever is working under the auspices of foreign governments with the funding of millions of shekels a year does not need additional help from Israeli taxpayers,” he said. “There is no logic to allowing groups working as foreign moles in every respect to exhaust our own institutions over the interests of the simple citizen.”

read more:
comments