The coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is encountering stiff opposition to their proposed judicial reforms but another initiative targeting foreign funding for NGOs is also stirring up controversy. Proposed by Likud MK Ofir Akunis, the bill, titled “On taxation of donations from foreign states”, was submitted by Likud MP Ariel Kelner and calls for imposing a 65% tax on all donations received by Israeli NGOs from foreign government organizations.
The bill is intended to target foreign-funded NGOs that according to Akunis and others members of the coalition, under the guise of serving humanitarian purposes actually operate against Israel. Before taking office, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the chairman of the Religious Zionism party, said these ‘human rights organizations’ were an existential threat to Israel and the next government must deal with them. The state must “get its hand on the money” for these groups, and act against them using legal and security means, he added.
The bill is significant in its potential impact. In an article in The Marker on the legislation, Meirav Arlozorov wrote that Israel holds the world record for foreign donations. Of the 18 billion shekels Israeli-based NGOs receive, only 6 billion comes from domestic benefactors. The remaining 12 billion comes from abroad.
Much of this funding goes to NGOs that many considered anti-Israel. NGO Monitor reported that as of August 11, 2015, 24 political advocacy NGOs involved in the Arab-Israel conflict received NIS 135,121,435 ($35M) between January 2012 – August 2015. A number of NGOs that are known to receive foreign funding did not report. The largest contributors were the European Union and Norway.
In one case, three left-wing “humanitarian” NGOs, Volunteers for Human Rights; Breaking the Silence, an advocacy group dedicated to exposing alleged wrongdoings by the IDF; and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, received almost $300,000 from the EU to fund legal proceedings against IDF soldiers.
Israel has been battling these organizations for years. After seven years of debate, in 2016, Israel passed a law requiring NGOs to be transparent about the sources of their funding.
The law, however, would also tax non-profit organizations that are involved in work benefiting marginalized and in-need segments of Israeli society. An article by Dr. Andre Gasiorowski, Chairman of the Helping Hand Coalition Global Forum, explained the difficulty.
“The bill does not distinguish between friendly and enemy states, regarding any “foreign influence on the life of Israeli society” as deliberately hostile and directed against Israel,” he explained. One example is the Holocaust Survivors Relief Fund which receives 348 million NIS annually from the German government. “According to the Likud bill, this fund will have to give the government two-thirds of its donations and will lose the status of a non-profit organization – that is, it will be forced to close.”
He emphasized that the legislation would affect aid from the governments of the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada, and other allies of Israel.
“Israeli universities and hospitals, cultural, sports, and even religious organizations receive millions from foreign governments – 152 Israeli NGOs,” he continued. “Among them are about forty human rights organizations that the Likud deputy wants to close down.”
“I understand the difficulty the government is attempting to cope with through this legislation,” Dr. Gasiorowski told Israel365 News. “It is a legitimate concern. But the new law should not impede the aid to Holocaust survivors.”
Toward this end, Dr. Gasiorowski submitted a letter on Tuesday, Holocaust Memorial Day, petitioning the Prime Minister, requesting that he add an amendment to the bill that would protect funding for Holocaust survivors.
“In order to prevent the proposal of this law from harming the survivors of the Holocaust, we are turning to you, Mr. Prime Minister,” Dr. Gasiorowski wrote, noting that he represents 20,000 Holocaust survivors and 250 volunteer organizations that work on their behalf.
Other groups that signed the petition were Avraham Greenzeid, chairman of the Alliance of World War II Veterans who fought the Nazis, Gita Kaufman, Chairman of the Association for the Survivors of the Concentration Camps and the Ghettos in Israel, and Alexander Berman and Avram Schernopolsky, heads of the Chazit HaKavod.