Israel passes controversial ‘NGO law’ despite global condemnation

Israel Shaked

Israel Shaked

Israel’s parliament adopted a law late Monday that critics say disproportionately targets human rights and leftist groups campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters say it’s a blow against foreign interference in Israeli affairs.

The law requires organisations to state that they rely on foreign funding in all communication with public officials and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online. Representatives of these groups must also declare they depend on foreign contributions to the heads of parliamentary committees when participating in meetings. Failure to comply will result in fines.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly supported the legislation, saying there is nothing anti-democratic about requiring transparency so the public is aware of the role of foreign governments in funding these groups.

“Unlike the left’s claims, the law’s approval will increase transparency, contribute to creating a discourse that reflects the Israeli public opinion, and will strengthen democracy,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page following the final vote.

Opponents of the law argued that it affects liberal groups almost exclusively because hawkish Jewish groups in Israel largely rely on donations from wealthy individuals, which are exempt. Critics say the Netanyahu government is targeting liberal human rights organisations that are critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Lawmaker Robert Ilatov of the hard-line nationalist Israel Beitenu party said he co-sponsored the law because “intervention in Israel’s internal affairs is not acceptable”.

Previous versions of the bill would have labeled the groups as foreign agents and allowed Israel to tax donations received from foreign governments. One particularly contentious proposal that was later dropped would have required representatives of these groups to wear identification tags while they were in Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.

‘The buds of fascism blooming in Israel’

During a debate late Monday that lasted several hours, Israeli opposition lawmakers heaped criticism on the legislation even though it had been toned down.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said ahead of the vote that the law represents “the buds of fascism blooming in Israel”.

Head of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh said the law sought to “intimidate and wipe away the few organisations that act and fight in the public sphere for equality to the Arab public”.

Other opposition lawmakers compared the measure to authoritarian policies in Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Several left-wing Israeli NGOs receive large percentages of their funding from abroad, including from European governments.

International condemnation

The so-called NGO law was approved despite strong criticism from abroad.

German lawmaker Volker Beck, chairman of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, wrote on Facebook Monday that the law would “tarnish the reputation” of Israel.

Israeli media has reported that nearly all of the Israeli groups that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments are human rights organisations identified with the left.

The anti-settlement group Peace Now announced it will challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.

“While the law will delegitimize left-wing organisations, pro-settler NGOs who receive millions of dollars in foreign donations without any transparency will remain unaffected,” the group said in a statement.