THE Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has defended a new “transparency” law for foreign-funded NGOs, despite a wave of international criticism. The new law, which was passed in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, would require NGOs that receive more than 50 per cent of their funding from foreign governments to declare it in publications and on a new register.
Breaches of the law could result in a fine of up to 29,000 shekels (approximately £5700).
Much of the criticism stems from the fact that 25 of the 27 organisations that the Israeli justice ministry say will be affected by the new law are left-wing pro-Palestinian groups funded by EU governments. Critics say that right-wing pro-Israeli NGOs tend to be funded by private donations, and so are outside the scope of the new law.
“The reporting requirements imposed by the new law go beyond the legitimate need for transparency, and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil-society organisations working in Israel,” a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign-affairs service said. “Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech, and a diverse civil society, which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear. This new legislation risks undermining these values.”
The criticism was rejected by President Netanyahu, who said that the new law would “prevent the absurd situation in which foreign countries intervene in Israel’s internal affairs by funding organisations without the Israeli public even being aware of it. Unlike the Left’s claims, the law will increase transparency.”
Christian Aid’s senior advocacy adviser for the region, William Bell, however, described the new law as “a clear attempt to restrict or close down voices that speak out against injustice. The majority of the organisations that this law will apply to are human-rights organisations, including Christian Aid’s Israeli partners B’Tselem, and Breaking the Silence, who confront Israeli society and the outside world about human-rights violations against, and realities faced by, the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation. . .
“Rather than trying to silence the voices that hold those in power to account, the Israeli parliament should listen to those who are committed to universal human rights, and to a future in which all can flourish, regardless of ethnicity or religion.”
A spokesman for B’Tselem said: “We didn’t stop the NGO law, but the NGO law will not stop us. We stand tall in the face of this and other persecutory measures taken against Israeli civil society.”