Knesset passes controversial NGO ‘transparency’ law

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset passed into law controversial legislation that requires non-government organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding.

The so-called NGO transparency bill, proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party, passed its second and third readings late Monday night after six hours of debate by a vote of 57 to 48.

The law requires NGOs that receive more than half of their support from “foreign political entities” – including foreign governments or state agencies – to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report and advocacy literature, or speak with a public official.

An earlier draft would have required representatives of such groups to wear badges identifying themselves as lobbyists of foreign governments, but that provision was scrapped. The NGOs are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before that committee, however.

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Nearly all the 27 Israeli organizations identified by the Justice Ministry as being affected by the new rules belong to the left wing, including B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Breaking the Silence.

Many right-wing NGOs are funded by private Jewish individuals in the United States and other countries, sources whose disclosure is not required under the new law.

“The NGO Law is intended to harm organizations that promote democracy and worldviews that differ from the views of the majority in the current coalition. Practically speaking, this law marks out NGOs. As the drafters of the law have already admitted, the real goal is to delegitimize organizations whose activities are not welcomed by the political majority and to harm their capacity to operate,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a statement after the law was approved. “The law is but one of a series of bills and initiatives that oppose legitimate social and political action. Instead of facilitating debate, there are individuals who wish to silence criticism.”

In a statement issued after the law was approved, Peace Now said it would challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.

The law “is a blatant violation of freedom of expression. Tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government’s policies. While the law will de-legitimize left wing organizations, pro-settler NGOs who receive millions of dollars in foreign donations without any transparency will remain unaffected,” Peace Now said.

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