Israel’s Justice Minister, 39 year-old Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Jewish Home Party that represents the powerful settler movement, is the primary advocate behind the Knesset bill that would require NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that receive 50% or more of their funding from foreign governments to publicly detail those sources as a means, Shaked says, to protect the state of Israel from the undermining and delegitimizing efforts of the Jewish state by foreign governments.
This bill, however, has nothing to do with what its backers claim because the bill is superfluous. Israel already has many regulations in place for NGOs that receive money from foreign governments, and their budgets are published and sources of income are known.
What is the real intent behind passage of this NGO Transparency bill?
To target Israeli human rights and left-wing organizations such as “B’tzelem,” which monitors human rights violations against Palestinians by settlers and the Israeli military administration in the West Bank, “Breaking the Silence,” a group of former IDF soldiers who are speaking out about army violations of human rights in the West Bank, and the American based “New Israel Fund,” a pro-Israel human rights organization that funds projects not funded by the Israeli government or American Federation dollars.
It is noteworthy that many right-wing NGOs that are not transparent are left untouched by this Knesset Bill.
According to a Peace Now survey issued in September, 2015 that examined the reports for 2006-2013 of nine NGOs identified with the Israeli right-wing, it was found that there is no way of knowing where the funding of hundreds of millions of shekels to these organizations that deeply affect policy and Israeli public opinion comes from (see http://peacenow.org.il/eng/RightWingNGOs).
For example, 2% (160,000 NIS) of the extremist right-wing organization “Im Tirtsu’s” funding is secret. Last week Im Tirtsu launched a slanderous campaign targeting some of Israel’s most respected left-wing literary icons including Amos Oz, A.B Yehoshua and David Grossman calling them “moles in culture” and insinuating that they are treasonous.
The anti-left “NGO Monitor” does not reveal 23% of its funding. The settlement movement’s powerful “Yesha Council” does not reveal 99% of its funding. The right-wing organization “Ir David Foundation” (Elad) that has led the way in building and developing East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods for Jewish settlement, does not reveal 100% of its funding.
The reason these groups are not required to reveal their funding sources is that their money either comes from Israeli individuals and Foundations or from wealthy American Jews and American Foundations. There is no requirement in Israeli law to name the names of individuals or non-government foundations. The Shaked NGO Transparency Bill only addresses funding from foreign governments.
Shaked’s bill is similar to policies in Egypt after the revolution that banned all NGOs and to Putin’s Russia that bans free speech. MK Shaked dismissed criticism by comparing the Israeli bill with the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro publicly refuted her comparison last month saying:
“As a general matter, US law imposes no limits, restrictions or transparency requirements on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans…the draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities….FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”
Shaked’s NGO Transparency bill does not expose anything new. Organizations in Israel that receive funds from private donors, as such as Sheldon Adelson, are far less regulated as opposed to those organizations receiving money from foreign governments, even governments such as the EU, Germany and the Netherlands that have excellent relations with Israel.
What it comes down to is that MK Shaked’s law focuses upon organizations she and the right-wing government of Israel do not like.
There seems to be a misconception by the bill’s advocates about the important check and balance role that NGOs play in democracies. In a proper democracy, the government does not get to decide what are the good NGOs and what are the bad NGOs. Rather, people decide what they wish to fund or not fund.
Shaked acknowledges that this NGO law does not shut down any NGO nor does it require changes in operating left-wing NGOs. The purpose of the bill is symbolic. Its intent is to sow suspicion about Israeli human rights NGOs, to insult their integrity, to challenge their pro-Israel credentials, and to prime the Israeli public to accept further limitations on what NGOs can do and not do down the road.
This bill ought to be defeated but it is expected to pass, which does not augur well for Israeli democracy.