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Right-wing parties revive attack on left-wing NGOs

The absurd contradiction between advancing bills with paranoid, dictator-style accusations of ‘foreign meddling,’ while throwing temper tantrums over the loss of that meddling for the sake of strengthening the occupation is deeply disheartening. 

Knesset members from two right-wing parties in Knesset have revived a bill to limit foreign government funding of left-wing Israeli NGOs. The original legislation was halted by the previous Knesset following both domestic and international criticism, including from Israel’s Attorney General. The current version of the bill is being described as “softer,” version but as a fine op-ed in Haaretz by Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute points out, it is more far-reaching and threatening to the free operation of civil society in Israel.

The bill, submitted by Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home and Robert Ilatov of Likud-Beitenu is custom-made to target left-wing associations by specifying outright the kinds attitudes an NGO may or may not support or risk having their funding limited to NIS 20,000 from foreign government sources. The following is an unofficial translation by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

No non-profit organization will receive a donation of more than NIS 20,000 per year from a foreign political entity, if the goals or conduct of the non-profit organization, or conduct of any member, employee or member of the board of the non-profit organization expressly or implicitly supports one of the following positions:

(a)  Calling for the prosecution of IDF soldiers in an international court;

(b) Calling for boycotts, divestment or sanctions against the State of Israel or its citizens;

(c)  Denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;

(d) Incitement to racism;

(e)  Supporting the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”

Here are a few points to consider regarding this bill:

1. Fuchs points out that the last two clauses are illegal anyway (actually, “b” is too) – so in any case, an organization advocating them would eventually to be targeted by the law. But listing the first three alongside the latter two also equates them in terms of severity and criminality; by association, the bill conveys that anyone who supports the first three is guilty of supporting terrorism. Many Israelis instinctively believe this already. Just consider how Naftali Bennett shot back at the new EU guidelines restricting funding for settlements by calling it “economic terrorism.” For his audiences, this is not a figurative statement.

2. The bill specifies that should anyone related to the NGO – a board member, employee or even regular members, which could number in the thousands – do these things, the entire organization is liable. That is a severe limitation on the rights of individuals, and it creates further legal inequality among citizens – some of whom may speak openly, while others may not

3. At a glance, the funding limitation may appear mild, an inconvenient but fair deterrent rather than a punishment. It relates only to foreign funding, and only foreign government funding which does sort of look like sovereign interference.

This is a profound mistake. In a free society, the government must not punish citizens for thinking or embracing any political opinion at all. Left-wing NGOs have the unpopular task of criticizing the government, a key pillar of democracy, and the foundation of freedom itself. The vital contribution of these groups hinges on their independence from the government, and so they depend on non-Israeli funding. Civil society here is already squeezed by the global financial crisis, which affects donations. This bill could become the cause of death for a struggling NGO, which is precisely what those MKs desire.

4. The bill was spawned in an unholy alliance with Im Tirzu, whose research and data provided the fodder for finding the best way to rip out the economic carpet from under civil society. Let’s be clear about the extent of the danger post by Im Tirzu to Israel. I can have a conversation or a dialogue with anyone on the right, no matter how much we disagree. But you cannot have a dialogue with people who rob your right to speak.

5. Hand-tailoring the bill to restrict funding from foreign political bodies is a red herring to distract attention from the millions that are poured into settlement projects by private foreign sources. Joseph Gutnick and John Hagee, Irving Moskovitz and Sheldon Adelson have reshaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and potential for solutions beyond recognition; the hypocrisy of tailoring bills against foreign influence on left-wing causes is mind-boggling. It makes one wonder if being right wing is a license to insult citizens’ intelligence.

Addendum: following the EU’s announcement of regulations designed to curtail agreements and financial investments in the occupied territories, the hypocrisy of some Israeli leaders reached new and screaming heights. Bennett, the head of the party proposing the NGO bill went into attack mode, so crushed was he at the thought of losing this sovereignty-violating lifeline. The prime minister and other far-right MKs were practically shaking with anger, unable to restrain themselves from the most bitter outbursts shamefully using Holocaust imagery. Really? So it turns out that foreign government funding is no longer meddling, as long as Israel can gorge on it to strengthen settlements?

The absurd contradiction between advancing bills with paranoid, dictator-style accusations of “foreign meddling,” while throwing blubbering temper tantrums over the loss of that meddling for the sake of strengthening the occupation is deeply disheartening. Even from politicians I don’t agree with, I truly expect better.

The day Europe got Israel’s attention

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    1. Kolumn9

      You are comparing European funding or cooperation in areas of science and technology to European funding of causes whose direct goal is to influence Israeli society and politics.

      Were Israel to start funding organizations devoted to a policy of overthrowing the current democratic regimes that reign in Europe in order to replace them with something completely different would you consider this to be a legitimate intervention in the affairs of European sovereign states? For example, let’s say Israel started funding a wide-range of organizations dedicated to the collapse of the EU, fascist organizations dedicated to overthrow European democracies and Islamist organizations dedicated to instituting Islamic states in European countries. Would European countries be within their rights to try to limit such funding?

      This discussion is silly. Israeli NGOs that have a certain opinion have the full right to express their opinions (assuming they are not inciting hatred or violence against Israelis). Some of these groups are certainly serving noble causes and I have no problem with their continued operation. Whether foreign powers should be allowed to extravagantly and freely sponsor them as a means of exerting influence in the internal affairs of a sovereign state is a different question.

      I think that the bill as it is designed right now is too broad and infringes on legitimate individual freedom of expression and it is very unlikely to become law. Nonetheless the desire to stem foreign investments in groups in Israel that are hostile to Israel is both legitimate and extremely reasonable. One could design a bill that would force all organizations receiving foreign funding to commit in writing to not act contrary to the clauses listed in your article or lose access to foreign funds. Violation of these clauses should be determined on the basis of the actions of the organizations rather than the unofficial opinions expressed by their officers. If these organizations lose foreign funding they could still operate but they should be unable to use foreign funding to artificially amplify their voices in Israeli society as they do under the current system due to their sponsorship by external organizations hostile to Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn, I assume “European funding [whose]…direct goal is to influence Israeli society& politics” refers to funding of activities and agreements in the settlements, which have the greatest possible influence on Israeli society and politics? Otherwise, what planet are you on? Sorry to be snippy. But really. Find me a left wing ngo that advocates overthrowing israel’s democratic regime and replacing it with fascist or religious orthodox regime. That’s the role of Im Tirzu and religious parties and they’ve got it covered. Please try to keep your comments at least marginally related to reality.
      Further, I am dismayed that you believe the government should take any step at all to tell an independent organization how to think and what positions to take – as long as they do not incite to violence or threaten national security. Yours is not the kind of thinking that contributes to a free and critical society, and I sincerely hope you re-think your approach.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Dahlia, you have refused to answer my question. The question is whether a sovereign state has the right to limit the interference of foreign governments in sponsoring organizations dedicated to overthrowing the current government or the entire system of government. In the case of left-wing organizations there quite a few that advocate the overthrow the basic structure of the state of Israel and are sponsored in their mission exclusively or overwhelmingly with money arriving from Europe. If there are organizations on the right that seek to overthrow the Israeli state and replace it with a fascist or theocratic government they should likewise be prevented from artificially amplifying their voice with the use of foreign funding. I don’t personally see Im Tirtzu even remotely striving to overturn Israel as a democratic or Jewish state. The religious parties are a different story.

        Domestic organizations can think whatever they want as long as they operate on resources that they generate domestically from the support of Israelis or Israeli organizations. When such organizations thrive like weeds because they are being sponsored by external hostile actors this is a cause for concern. I honestly don’t understand the contrary argument. Israel should continue to allow the foreign funding of organizations whose sole objective is to damage Israel by hostile governments? This is not a hypothetical question about freedom of expression. There are organizations in Israel which explicitly call to damage the Israeli economy, isolate Israel and undermine its existence. Under any semblance of reason such organizations should be considered hostile groups and it is legitimate for a country to defend itself against such groups especially where they are blatantly being used by foreign governments and organizations.

        I don’t see any reason to re-think my approach because I don’t see any opposing argument being provided other than absolutist demands for freedom of expression which in my opinion is an entirely unrelated issue. The question isn’t whether these organizations should be allowed to hold whatever positions they want. The question is whether organizations hostile to the extreme to their host state and its basic structure should be allowed to be sponsored from abroad.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          Very persuasive. Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin could use your services too. Perhaps, you can sell their new homophobic laws better than they can as curbing the meddling interference of those pesky democracies.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Yes, yes. I am a fascist because I don’t want hostile foreign governments sponsoring organizations explicitly hostile to my state within my state.

            Now I am off to send several tens of millions of dollars to Islamist, Euroskeptic and fascist organizations in Europe, but of course only because I wish to support their freedom of speech, not because I support their programs and wish to undermine and damage the targets of their hatred. I just like throwing around money that way and it has nothing to do with trying to influence the internal politics of those countries. Nor are the organizations I am sponsoring inciting to violence or are dangers to state security. All the want is to entirely overturn the current structures of the states they are based in. Peacefully of course. Peacefully. And in the interest of the human rights of the residents of those states of course which in my opinion are better protected under an Islamist government or their own national sovereign governments.

            Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            Dude, Americans sponsor Im Tirtzu. I consider that a “hostile organization.” What gives your opinion more validity than mine?

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            The only difference is that Im Tirzu is not sponsored by an official institution of another country. That’s the whole issue.

            The funding of “Im Tirzu” should be limited just as the organization from the left. There’s no right or left here, just the source of the funding. Thing is – many (or most) organizations from the left are somehow sponsored by foreign states. Right wing organizations are not.

            Reply to Comment
          • As in the past, K9 conflates his own views of what Israel should be with Israel itself. It seems pretty clear to me that many of the journalists at 972 see the settlements as foundationally harmful to Israeli society and law; yet, as Dahlia notes, foreign contributions to the settlements are welcome. Nor does the Israeli State generally refuse contributions from the Diaspora. The real issue here is equal enjoyment of social and political action, including advocacy for funding externally, as promised by, yes, your never discussed Declaration of Independence.

            Point (c) of the list is quite revealing: “Denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State” includes forbidding an assertion that the State is no longer democratic. This has nothing to do with harming the State by advocating its dissolution; yet the wording implies exactly this–to criticize is to destroy. This is Orwellian speak. Which fits in nicely with Kafka speak.

            One can hope the Knesset will refuse the bill.

            Reply to Comment
          • Point c, “denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish & Democratic State,” is highly ambiguous, at least in this translation. I think what they object to is people saying that the expression “Jewish and Democratic” is self-contradictory, because the aspiration to become a racial-supremacist state is anti-democratic by definition. And it is. But within racial-supremacist states, politicians have always celebrated the achievement of “true, racial democracy,” haven’t they?

            Reply to Comment
          • I can already hear someone saying to me, “what are you talking about? Race has nothing to do with it. Jews are not a ‘race’.” And this is true. In fact, there is strictly speaking no such thing as a ‘race’ to be found anywhere. The Germans were not a ‘race’, before, during or after Nazism. But the ideological fiction of race was fundamental to Nazism, nonetheless. Apartheid south Africa similarly was a racial-supremacist state, not because white south Africans constituted a ‘race’, but because of its ideology. Religious Zionism is in the business of constituting ‘the Jewish people’ as a race (in german, the same word has both meanings, volk).

            It’s deniable in the sense that they can say, “Look, people can still become Jews by conversion, that proves there’s nothing racially exclusive about us,” and this also is true, but look at the way conversion works in reality. There are Indian Jews, Chinese Jews, African Jews, and now even Amazonian Jews, all descendents of long-ago group conversions; but individuals who want to become Jews by Israeli Orthodox religious criteria are treated like dirt. Pretty clearly, race is the real determining factor, and the group conversions are a sort of public tokenism to obscure this.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Vadim, your comment makes me wonder if you even read the article, and if not, may I recommend point 5.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Your argument appears to be that it is unfair to target those organizations that promote the boycott and isolation of Israel because they are overwhelmingly on the left side of the political map. That logic offends my intelligence.

        Reply to Comment
        • The target is not foreign organizations but Israeli citizens seeking their support. The violation in social and competitive equality lies in restricting only one part of the political spectrum from full market advocacy of its position(s). The bill muzzles speech and political activity by charging foreign interference, thereby also stigmitizing those accepting this aid. The issue is not foreign aid as such, for many organizations channel aid to Israel, but aid going to views a possible Knesset majority does not like.

          Reply to Comment
      • No, Dahlia the point he’s making is valid. But it’s trivial and possibly deceptive. Im Tirtzu’s funders are private individuals, granted, but look who they are. They’re all political players at the governmental level, and three of the four are probably party funders too. According to Uri Blau in Haaretz, Dec 30 2011, Im Tirtzu in 2010 received funding from the following sources:
        *The Azrieli Group, a shareholder in Bank Leumi and LeumiCard, which also owns 13 malls throughout the country and a controlling share in the Sonol, Tambour and Supergaz companies and is behind the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv;
        *Leo Schachter, Israel’s second-largest exporter of processed diamonds, headed by Elliot Tannenbaum;
        *Keren Segal Leyisrael, a fund headed by Jerusalem businessman Yotam Bar-Hama;
        *The Forum for Religious Zionism, an organization registered in 2010 in the name of Zvi Soibel, former director of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh.

        Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Dahlia –
        1. I was responding to Haifawi.
        2. Your 5th point proves nothing, you merely state your mind. You don’t even prove it or somehow support it.

        Rowan –
        1. The funding of Im Tirzu you’re talking about is only a 1/4 of the total funding they received. The rest was not disclosed because it was less than 20K NIS. I don’t have a clue who gives them money and I find that disturbing, same as I would with any other NGO
        2. Every person rich enough to be a donor is a political player.
        3. Im Tirzu is not the issue here. Nor are the left wing NGOs. I don’t agree with what they do, you don’t agree with Im Tirzu and that’s all right. The real question is whether official government institutes should so bluntly intervene with other country’s internal politics and fund such organizations.
        4. The left is in hysteria again. The law does not ban such NGOs, it even permits other countries to provide small donations. If we look at Im Tirzu for example, 3/4 of their donations are from small sources (according to what they claim) and I think the case is similar in other NGOs. I don’t think they will be really affected by the law. But the usual left hysteria is here, it’s not just a law but – “facism”, “end of freedom of speech”, “Im Tirzu” and “death of democracy” all together.

        Reply to Comment
    4. You want us to find an example of Israeli govt-funded bodies financing any sort of political pressure groups or ginger groups outside the country. Well, Keren ha-Yesod/Jewish Agency contribute funds to a great many ‘pro-Israel’ groups in the US and worldwide, notably Birthright/Taglit. Ah but they do not aim to distort, disrupt or destroy the political nature of those countries, you say. Well, that’s a matter of degree. I’d say AIPAC practically rigs US Congressional elections, and it’s often described as an agent of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whoever funds it.

      I love this at the end of the Uri Blau article of Dec 30 2011: “Two weeks ago, Shahar Ginossar reported in Yediot Ahronot that in 2008 a man by the name of Adam Horowitz donated 75,000 shekels to Im Tirtzu. According to the report, there are three people in Israel by this name. Two have denied any connection to the donation and the third, a Likud activist close to PM Netanyahu, said, “It must be another Horowitz.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Vadim

      Dude, I totally agree with you. There is something problematic in sponsoring NGOs in other countries. And each country should draw the line somewhere. I would not be offended if US would not like to have Israel sponsor NGOs they think harm their interests. Right wing and left wing NGOs should be treated the same.

      Regardless, what’t the problem with someone close to the PM contributing to Im Tirzu? Do you wish to inspect NIF and their relations with Israel’s elite? With judges? Journalists? Politicians?

      Reply to Comment
    6. I’m glad we agree, Vadim. The first problem is to get AIPAC classified as the agent of a foreign power. Then all sorts of US law kicks in on it. The history of AIPAC is pretty amazing in itself; it’s a sort of microcosm of USraeli relations over the years. There are several small USAian groups wholly devoted to tracking it. We mustn’t forget WINEP, one of the more influential Washington ‘think-tanks’, which as M J Rosenberg exposed, at the cost of his career, is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIPAC, so to speak.

      There’s nothing wrong with the Horowitz story. I just like the backhanded way Uri Blau tells it.

      Reply to Comment
    7. rsgengland

      Virtually all “left wing NGOs'” get most, if not all, their funding from foreign groups, which are in turn funded by foreign governments.
      Virtually all pro-Israel NGOs’ are funded by individuals, both Israeli and Foreign.
      Therefore one could assume that the “left wing NGOs” are instruments of foreign government policy, aiming to change the internal politics of Israel through the back door.
      Many countries, including in the West, regard these type of activities as that of “foreign lobbyists”, and are therefore well within their rights to monitor and control their activities.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yet you are quite willing to accept US foregin aid direct, as well as US and EU aid indirect to the PA; then there is the UN’s role, more in the past, in keeping those in refugee camps from starving/dying. And let us not forget EU developmental aid to the go it alone powerhouse.

        I suspect much of the “left wing NGO aid” you fear is administered by agencies funded by governments, perhaps several, for the promotion of human rights and democracy. These agencies define these NGO’s as engaged in human rights action so allow them to compete for grants; this infuriates. The Russian State has closed down some outside funding for the same reason.

        I find this bill and your reaction hysterical. Everyone hates “leftist NGO’s.” All they do is lose in court and post on YouTube and 972. Oh, right, now I get it.

        Reply to Comment
    8. I want to use up more space on this page to make my view of how this proposed bill violates social competitive equality among citizens, although I know no one will care.

      The focus is not on foregin State funding but State neutrality in social market access to funding. Suppose the State limited all NGO foreign funding to individual Diaspora Jews. Since this source is overall disposed against “leftists,” the effect is to truncate their competitive ability to raise foreign funds. While the ban is facially neutral it is not as applied, and both tests are needed to clear equal protection. Similarly, ban on foreign STATE funding (direct or indirect) is a red hearing of supposed neutrality when the focus is competitive access. Precisely because the Diasopra is undisposed to lefitists, they must compete elsewhere. And they do compete–they must show agencies with limited funding they are worthwhile; and they must act within Israel to validate future requests. They have evolved access to such funding–this is social evolution. If these leftists can survive in Israeli society with such competitive struggle, they are as protected in that struggle as are “rightist” organizations gathering funds from the Diaspora (why not ban all Diaspora aid?). Equality in social rights, insured by your Declaration of Independence, means, minimally, immunity from State interference in competition for funds as defined by the greater social market, absent direct criminal activity. Let the leftists dry up through failure, not suffocation. Israel has a long culutral history of outside support; leftists are simply another instance. Where foreign States support rightist NGOs there is no problem. Thus the propsed bill violates equal protection, your Declaration of Independence, and democracy as generally understood in the West.

      That’s it.

      Reply to Comment
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