The controversial NGO bill, which will require that non-governmental organizations in Israel identify their sources of funding, was unanimously passed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, a preliminary step to passing in the Knesset.
It will be presented to the Knesset on Wednesday, where it is expected to pass into law with the support of coalition parties and Yisrael Beiteinu.
The bill, which was proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would demand that NGOs in Israel – most of which identify with the political left – declare all funding received from foreign countries and governments. The bill’s goal is to increase transparency among organizations that claim to advocate for human rights and work for justice in Israel but actually pursue an agenda laid out by foreign governments.
Any NGO that is mostly funded by foreign governments would be required to say so in all publications and public reports, in any contact in writing, and at meetings with public officials and employees. The NGO’s representatives would have to wear name tags stating the name of their organization when they are at the Knesset, as lobbyists must.
Violations of the law would result in a fine of NIS 29,200.
The proponents of the bill argue that the funding of NGOs in Israel by European governments is essentially interference by those governments in Israeli domestic issues and that the NGOs work to push foreign interests while operating under the guise of human rights advocacy.
The European Union (EU) has loudly condemned the bill, calling it a “blow to democracy” which would “damage freedom of speech and freedom of assembly”. EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen criticized the bill in a meeting with Shaked, saying that it is “explicitly intended to harm organizations critical of government policy. It will have a negative impact on the image of Israel and its standing in Europe as an open and democratic society.”
Shaked disagreed, saying that what amounts to foreign interference in the internal Israeli sphere “violates all rules and norms in relations between democratic countries.”
As an example, she pointed to the UN’s commission of inquiry on war crimes during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, which was highly critical of the Israeli army. The inquiry, she said, “was based on testimony by Israeli non-governmental organizations such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Adalah.”
B’Tselem and Adalah are two NGOs whose stated purpose is to safeguard Palestinian human rights. Breaking the Silence is an organization, highly vilified in Israel, which collects and disseminates testimony from IDF soldiers of alleged abuses committed by the Israeli army.
The NGO watchdog group NGO Monitor has said that the real problem is in Europe’s “irresponsible funding practices”, and not in Israel. It said of the bill, “When European governments try to short-circuit Israeli democracy, they should not be surprised when there is pushback.”
Shaked said after the passage of the bill on Sunday that it would not impact freedom of speech. She said that Israel cannot accept a situation in which “the European Union donates to NGOs that are acting in the name of Israel, when in practice they are used as a tool by foreign countries to implement their policies.”
Left-wing MKs voiced strong opposition to the bill. Zehava Galon, who is the leader of the left-wing Meretz party, called the bill a “continuation of the political hunting, chasing, and silencing of human rights groups and left-wing groups, who criticize the behavior of the government.”
While the bill is expected to pass on Wednesday, MKs hope to revise it in committee readings.