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Everything you need to know about Israel's 'NGO law'

Despite international criticism, the Knesset passes legislation to single out left-wing NGOs in Israel. Here is everything you need to know about it.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen at the Knesset during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on July 11, 2016. (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen at the Knesset during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on July 11, 2016. (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s parliament passed the so-called “NGO Law” Monday night, a piece of legislation meant to stigmatize left-wing and human rights organizations in Israel as agents of foreign powers.

The law singles out NGOs that receive the majority of their funding from foreign state entities, forcing them to prominently declare their foreign funding in any publication or public engagement such as media appearances or events.

Contrary to what right-wing politicians claim, the law is not intended to create more transparency, since Israel already has very strict transparency laws and regulations. Furthermore, the vast majority of the organizations in question already list their sources of funding on their own websites and report the information to the government. (Of 27 organizations believed to be affected by the law, 25 were found to be left-wing or human rights groups.)

The intended effect of the NGO Law is to send a dangerous and stifling message to the Israeli public. The message it sends is that the values espoused and advanced by these organizations — like B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, and others — do not exist organically in Israel; lawmakers are saying that the values of human rights and opposing the occupation are being imposed on Israel from the outside-in, and only for malicious purposes.

Both European Union officials and the Obama administration have previously criticized the bill. On Tuesday, the European Union blasted the law’s passing, saying it “undermines values of democracy and freedom of speech in Israel,” and called upon Israel to refrain from taking actions that may curtail freedom of expression and association.

Here are four must-read pieces on the NGO law from the +972 archives:

1. Israel is seeing a worrying resurgence of attempts to curtail and suppress dissent, particularly among anti-occupation and human rights activists. That process is not taking place in a vacuum.

2. In February fifty members of the European Parliament send an open letter to their Israeli counterparts urging them to abandon the NGO bill, which singles out European-funded human rights NGOs while not touching right-wing organizations.

3. There is nothing particularly new about the wave of attacks against human rights and the anti-occupation Left. There is nothing new about the increasingly hostile political atmosphere. Not at all. And yet something feels far worse, and scarier, this time around.

4. The NGO bill is a semi-fascistic law that harms democracy and silences dissent in a way that is reminiscent of Putin’s Russia, writes Meretz Secretary-General Mossi Raz. Maybe it’s time to talk about what kind of policies Israeli taxpayers are funding.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like_ike52

      I don’t understand all the hysteria. No one is trying to shut down the Leftist organizations mentioned, but it is reasonable the when foreign governments are trying to intervene in Israel’s internal affairs, the Israeli people have a right to know about it. I believe other countries have similar laws. BTW-the same applies to the organizations supporting the Right as well.
      Finally, the use of the term “semi-Fascistic” shows a semi-hysterical response to this law in order to motivate the ‘true believers’ to protest. Better to come down to earth when arguing one’s case and not use loaded epithets. That simply indicates that you have a weak case.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzedek

        In this case the law would have also concerned foreign or corporate funding. Governments accusing human rights activists of being foreign agents is nothing specific to the state of Israel by the way, but it’s generally very bad news for the political pluralism of a society.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “the Israeli people have a right to know about it.”

        1. “Contrary to what right-wing politicians claim, the law is not intended to create more transparency, since Israel already has very strict transparency laws and regulations. Furthermore, the vast majority of the organizations in question already list their sources of funding….”

        2. Interesting usage there, “the Israeli people.” Who are they and why then does your government refuse to recognize Israeli nationality but instead insists on racial distinctions on passports?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      I am not sure how this is managed in UK. I do know that there are concerns about “charitable” donations coming from KSA and the Gulf for charities that seek to challenge the authority of the state and impose Sharia law in the UK.

      Usually the government looks for a way to shut down the business or its executive if they step one inch beyond the law. Failing that the press does a hatched job plus legal expenses as they are dragged through the courts.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      The blog writer grasps it perfectly and is not the least bit hysterical:

      “The message it sends is that the values espoused and advanced by these organizations — like B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, and others — do not exist organically in Israel; lawmakers are saying that the values of human rights and opposing the occupation are being imposed on Israel from the outside-in, and only for the malicious purposes.”

      This is fascism. The Italian term fascismo is derived from fascio meaning a bundle of rods, organic and intrinsic to the body populace, i.e., strength through unity. So that people who resist are labelled “outside forces” and get treated like an infection of the body.

      Reply to Comment