Law to encumber foreign-funded NGOs in Israel

Published 03.11.2015 21:17

Left-wing Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accused the government of a witch-hunt on Monday after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked proposed tough new measures on organizations receiving funding from foreign governments.

The draft bill published by Shaked on Sunday will force such NGOs to mark all documents when presenting them to parliamentarians and also declare their foreign funding in any talks at which public officials are present. They will also have to wear identification badges in parliament, similar to the current rules for lobbyists. Shaked said she wanted to improve "transparency" over NGO funding. "Blatant interference in internal Israeli affairs by foreign governments is unprecedented and widespread," the right-wing Shaked said in a statement. "The public, and their representatives, have a right to know who is behind" these organizations.

Five left-wing NGOs told Agence France-Presse (AFP) they felt targeted by the right-wing government because of their criticism of Israel's policies. "Funding from international sources to human rights organizations is legitimate and necessary, especially in states where there is a serious problem of human rights violations," said Adalah, an NGO that seeks to defend the rights of Arab Israelis.

Israel has a vibrant and active civil society, with more than 30,000 registered NGOs. The right-wing NGO monitor website has listed more than 20 Israeli NGOs that are allegedly heavily funded by foreign governments and hostile to policies of Israeli governments, accusing them of "distorting" democracy. Several bills have been proposed in recent years, which left-wing NGOs claim have targeted them, on topics ranging from donations to the right to access the legal system. In 2013, a ministerial committee backed a law that would have vastly increased taxes on donations from abroad to NGOs that support measures deemed hostile to the state, including calling for the prosecution of soldiers for alleged war crimes.

Although this and many other proposals never become law, Debbie Gild-Hayo, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the aim was to create a culture of stigma.

In June 2015, Shaked again accused the foreign-funded NGOs of attempting to delegitimize Israel's existence as a "Jewish and democratic state," and had called on Israel to "boycott anyone who boycotts us" on June 3 during her address at the Knesset.

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