US rejects likening Israel’s NGO law to lobbying registry

State Department spokesman says Minister Shaked’s bill endangers a ‘free and functioning civil society’

US State Department Spokesman John Kirby. (AP/Susan Walsh)
US State Department Spokesman John Kirby. (AP/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has rejected the comparison between an Israeli bill requiring registration of foreign-funded NGOs and US laws registering foreign interest lobbyists.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, asked by JTA on Wednesday about Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s op-ed this week likening the two laws, also said the United States had expressed concerns to the Netanyahu government about the measure.

“They’re two different things altogether,” Kirby said, referring to the law approved this week by Israel’s cabinet and the US Foreign Agents Registration Act. Kirby did not specify the differences.

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive a majority of their support from “foreign political entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public official. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register and report their activities.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem, January 3, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem, January 3, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

Kirby also said that since the Israeli cabinet green-lighted the bill, US officials have expressed concerns about the dangers it could pose to a “free and functioning civil society.”

He noted the bill must undergo multiple readings in the Knesset, a process that could modify the language.

The American Jewish Committee has also expressed concerns about the bill.

“The proposed solution poses as many risks as the problem itself, including the risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost,” the AJC said Tuesday in a statement.

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