Israeli gov’t votes to support bill targeting left-wing NGOs

Proposed law would force human rights NGOs to sport special labels and badges indicating that they receive foreign funding. The bill still needs to go through committee, pass a full Knesset vote.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the far right-wing Jewish Home party, who sponsored the bill targeting human rights and left-wing organizations. (Photo by Activestills.org)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the far right-wing Jewish Home party, who sponsored the bill targeting human rights and left-wing organizations. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The Israeli government on Sunday voted to support a law targeting human rights and left-wing organizations, which European countries and human rights activists have said resemble less-than-democratic regimes

The bill, should it become law, would require NGOs that receive 50 percent or more of their funding from foreign governments to detail those sources of funding in any public reports or documents, meetings with state officials, and to wear special tags when attending legislative sessions in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. The bill is designed to single out human rights, pro-democracy and left-wing civil society organizations.

Instituting mandatory funding labels and identification badges would project a message that human rights work is a foreign — as opposed to an Israeli — interest or agenda.

MK Ayman Odeh, the leader of Israel’s third largest party in the Knesset, described that law as another effort by the Netanyahu government to “[chip] away at what is left of the democratic space in Israel.”

The “Transparency Bill,” the latest iteration of which was sponsored by Justice Minister and Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked, is not the first of its kind. Netanyahu governments have been attempting to pass various versions of similar legislation cracking down on left-wing NGOs since 2011. Netanyahu eventually put the kibosh on previous attempts for various reasons.

Despite the fact that Netanyahu has blocked earlier versions of this law in the past, however, an unnamed source in the Israeli government recently told Haaretz that the prime minister would not stand in the way this time. The current version is more watered-down than previous attempts to target left-wing NGOs.

Sunday’s vote comes a week after proto-fascist group Im Tirzu launched a hateful campaign targeting Israeli human rights activists and their respective organizations, suggesting that because they receive foreign funding that they are “planted” foreign agents working to advance foreign agendas, at the detriment of Israeli security.

A Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)
A Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

European Union officials harshly criticized the bill Sunday, warning Israel to be “very careful about reining in its prosperous democratic society with laws that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.” The United States has in the past said it was worried by Israeli legislation targeting NGO funding.

Both the United States and European Union are significant funders of human rights, civil rights and social equality non-profits in Israel.

Earlier this month, four leading German legislators sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu expressing their concern over the bill, asking Netanyahu to “rethink” the proposed legislation.

“Human rights organizations fill an essential role in any society which aspires to be democratic,” MK Odeh added, “which is why they are constantly targeted as enemies of Israeli sovereignty.”

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, explained the bill targeting critical NGOs as an attempt “to make the occupation disappear and blame those who oppose it — human rights organizations — for the global criticism that it creates.”

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