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Government committee approves bills limiting funds to human rights organizations

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved two bill proposals aimed at limiting the ability of the UN and foreign governments to financially support human rights organizations in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the bills, increasing the likelihood of a Knesset majority for both legislative initiatives.

The first bill, sponsored by Likud MK Ophir Akunis seeks to limit all foreign funding for “political organizations” to 20,000 NIS (some 5,000$) per year while the other, proposed by Yisrael Beitinu’s MK Fania Kirschenbaum seeks to levy a 45 percent taxation rate on all foreign state funding of NGOs. The Knesset is expected to vote on both bills in the coming weeks.

Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of The Israeli Association for Civil Rights, has said in response to the decision that “the current government is leading an attack on the foundations of democracy – the Supreme Court’s very independence was endangered today, as are the freedom of operations for human rights organizations.” Read his related post on +972 here.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that the European Union and the United States are exerting pressure on Israel to scrap the bill in light of its ramifications for Israeli democracy.

UPDATE: Dr. Ishai Menuchin, Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel:

Approval of the Law Proposal limiting foreign funding for NGOs by “the Ministerial Committee on legislation” places Israel in step with non-democratic societies in the world. With this decision we have slipped further down the slippery slope of eliminating democracy in Israel. The eleven ministers who supported the proposed law (amongst them the education, culture and welfare ministers!) demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of the concept of freedom of association in a democracy, an abject lack of commitment to democracy and the strongest desire to stifle voices of those with dissenting opinions.

UPDATE II: Likud MK Danny Danon posted the following message on his Facebook page:

The Ministry Committee for Legislation’s decision to approve the bill that restricts left-wing organizations from receiving funding from foreign groups is good news for all supporters of Zionism. An Organization which advocates against the State should be outlawed. Ceasing their funds is the first step in removing the peripheral leftists from Israeli society. This who are against the investigation of the source of financing of these leftist organizations will have to accept that the law will ultimately end the interference of foreign countries in internal affairs of the State of Israel!

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    1. Ariely

      What some Israeli political movements that failed to get the public support in the democratic election are doing?
      They are trying to impose their agenda by foreign intervention.
      They are active abroad in anti Israeli groups, sometimes they are the leading activists.
      European groups are trying to influence Israelis opinion by funding the activity of Israeli NGO’s.
      This is not democracy!
      (To make a case – let’s assume that Israel will heavily fund the supporters of Independence Scottish movement, the vive le Quebec Fences or the Bask independence – what will be the EU reaction?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      Ariely, your argument is fallacious and uninformed. The biggest donor to Human Rights Watch, for example, is the US government and HRW has been quite a pain in the neck to the British government for some years because of that groups staunch opposition to UK anti-terrorism laws. They have also been critical of French policies. That being said you do not see Britain or France trying to stifle the voices of NGOs within their borders in this manner although they’ll try to de-legitimize them in the media.
      Furthermore, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and many others don’t run in any Israeli elections. They’re not political parties. They are the same as oil, agricultural or the Yesha Council; lobbying and advocating on single and/or specific issues.
      It is not democracy to deny any Israeli the freedom to associate with the UN, the EU or whichever friendly government or organization they choose. Since when did the EU become Israel’s mortal enemy? Taking money from the UK Foreign Ministry is not the same as taking money from Iran.
      And finally Israel funds Jewish organizations that try to encourage talented, tax paying Jewish citizens of friendly countries to emigrate. Surely that might be construed as offensive to European and North American states?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jalal

      Israel has been going down on the slippery slope since 1948…now its just going down even more.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rick

      danger comment by Danon. Groups breaking laws can be outlawed via courts by the rule of law. Removing groups by cutting them from donors sounds like silencing them even they work within freedom of speech and coalition.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      I think both Belorus and Iran are having similar laws. And Khamenei is not called Object of Emulation for nothing.

      I think that this government has to win a little war, and NGOs are probably the best target. Whether you attack Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, or NGOs the pattern is that intolerable danger to the security, if not existence of the state is identified, hostilities start, defiant statements issued, and after extensive bruhaha all sides declare victory.

      In this case, for Lieberman it is a golden opportunity, because either the law passes and he (and Kirschenebaum? is she his delphina?) is the statesman who slew the dragon’s head (or is it a hydra?), or it will fail due to lily-livered Likudniks who have some misplaced faith in Zhabotynski as a “democrat”. Vote Israel Beitenu next time!

      USA and EU can exercise some pressure and GoI will either exhibit resolve or magnanimity. An interesting scenario that I can forsee: Putin has a certain sardonic sense of humor, and he can encourage, say, Roman Abramovich, to step in as a private donor. Because private donors in Israel are usually pillars of support of the government, banning their donations has to be done with utmost care — even uttering a word can be dangerous. This is not Russia where a tycoon can be temporarily exiled to Chukotka (or much, much worse. Abramovich is done with Chukotka for now.)

      Reply to Comment
    6. Lelaina

      Danny Danon: ‎”An Organization which advocates against the State should be outlawed.” How DARE you as a politician thriving in a so called democratic country say such a fascist thing. Shame on you and your colleagues for fearing the free speech of opposition. Feeling the need to silence these voices only strengthens the argument that you know you may be wrong. Why else would you fear us?

      Reply to Comment