Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Transparency bill was approved by the Knesset plenum Tuesday night in its first reading (there are three altogether) in a 50 to 43 vote. The bill compels NGOs receiving funding from abroad to declare who are the donors and how much are they providing. The aim of the bill is to increase the transparency in the NGOs’ activities in Israel, without otherwise limiting it.
The bill had been received with harsh criticism both by Israel’s left-wing and by major media outlets such as the NY Times and the Washington Post. In her introduction, Shaked addressed the criticism, saying: “After many hours of public debates regarding the Transparency law, countless articles, editorials and many desperate cries from the benches on [the left side of the aisle], I’ve come to realize that you, who are objecting to the Transparency Law, don’t really know why you’re against it.
“Anyone looking at you from the side sees right away that you’ve long since moved from the stage of objecting to the law on ideological grounds, to the stage where you’re against it because of paranoia. … Some of you think the bill is terrible and not one letter of it should be entered in the law books; but at the very same time, another part of you think that the law should have been extended to include additional entities.
“In the end, your objections … may be condensed under three categories: 1. damage to a protected fundamental right; 2. damage to the democratic process and minority rights; 3. damage to the freedom of association and occupation.”
Shaked then analyzed, one by one, those three claims, taking shots at the opposition. Regarding the fundamental right in danger, she suggested the only such right is the right to property, the left’s ownership of the idea of transparency in the political process (as in Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ immortal adage, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”) She suggested the left is angry that what they consider their inherent possession, the notion of transparency, was stolen from them to be used against them.
“It turns out that you in the leftist parties don’t officially own the idea of transparency,” Shaked continued, noting that “integrity, transparency and proper administration are not the purview of only one side of the aisle in this hall. They are values that we all must aspire for, even when on occasion it’s less pleasant for you.”
As to the claim regarding damage to the proper democratic process, Shaked said she always believed the foundation of Israel’s democracy was the will of the Israeli voter, but, “with every passing day I understand more and more that you [on the left] have a different understanding of the term Democracy.”
Shaked then referred to former Foreign Ministry director Alon Liel, who told a forum of Breaking the Silence that even though their kind may have the support of only 2% of the population, but that two percent is made up of the most moral, intelligent and farsighted people, who are not brainwashed by the right-wing messianic propaganda, which is why they are entitled to enlist political and financial help from abroad to impose a hostile policy on the elected government.
“That’s the essence of the thing,” Shaked told the opposition benches. “Since you perceive yourselves as the ones who are right, even when you only represent 2% of Israeli society, and since you believe that other than yourselves everyone is brainwashed by religious propaganda, and since you don’t believe in the concept of ‘the will of the voter,’ and are convinced only you can provide the public with what it really needs — you are prepared to skip the [part about] majority rule,’” even through forcing your way on the Israeli public.
Finally, Shaked dealt with the objections based on damage to the freedom of association and occupation, saying it was nothing but an excuse. She reiterated that the proposed bill is simply logical, forcing groups who promote political interests to identify who outside the country is paying for it.
“The original sin of those NGOs that are so vociferous in objecting to this law is precisely the sin that you on the left would not admit, which is what this law is exposing. These NGOs, that won’t stop screaming, are not here to promote Israeli interests, nor are they driven by an Israeli concept of what’s good for us, neither from a left-wing nor from a right-wing perspective. These NGOs are serving foreign interests. They are financed by the taxpayers in foreign countries, dancing to the tune of the governments that fund them.”
Shaked mentioned one example of such grotesque foreign influence: following the 2008-9 Cast Lead operation against Gaza, the Dutch church organization ICCO wanted to send Breaking the Silence 42,000 euro (roughly $47,000), on one condition: they required no fewer than 90 incriminating testimonies against IDF soldiers.
“If you find the math too difficult, I’ll tell you that it comes down to 466 euro ($521) for every Israeli soldier’s head,” Shaked said, adding, “that’s what an IDF soldier is worth to Breaking the Silence. It’s those money transfers that anyone objecting to the new law is trying to protect. That’s the freedom of association in whose name you speak today, these are the fields of occupation you try to promote.”
MK Dov Khenin, the only Jewish member of the United Arab List, attacked the NGO Transparency law with an honesty one doesn’t often hear on the left. He argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu “remembers well the Rabin government that relied on outside support from the votes of the Arab public. He understands that if he wants to rule he has to remove the Arabs from the political map and the political discourse. This is why he is so invested in this delegitimization campaign that began with the election day lie about the Arabs flooding the voting booths, moved on to Arab MKs who supposedly are in lockstep with ISIS, and continues with the current incitement round.”
Interestingly, the MK Khenin speech could have easily been carried by Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, with a few tweaks in style and direction.
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) responded to Shaked’s argument saying, “The Justice Minister says we don’t understand Democracy, so she should add that the President of the United States also doesn’t know what’s democracy, and neither do the European Union, the Conservative and Reform movements and world Jewish organizations — they all don’t understand what’s Democracy, only she does.”