Knesset cools on bill to scrutinize left-wing NGOs

The Knesset has passed a bill requiring nonprofits to disclose funding from foreign governments, but it postponed taking a vote on a more controversial bill.

The Foreign Government NGO Funding Transparency Bill passed Feb. 21. It requires nonprofits to disclose on their advertisements which foreign governments and foundations contributed to the advertising campaigns; it also requires that non-governmental organizations disclose whether, in exchange for funding, they have to take certain stances.

Meanwhile, the Knesset postponed a discussion and vote on a different bill that would establish two panels to look into the funding sources and activities of left-wing organizations. The postponement came after members of the Likud Party reportedly were reconsidering their support, which means the bill likely would not pass.

Daniel Sokatch

“I am very pleased by the news [of the postponement and likely failure],” Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund and San Francisco resident, said in a statement. “I hope that as political support for this anti-democratic legislation continues to erode, that this motion will be relegated to the trash heap as it so rightly deserves in a country whose people remain firmly committed to the values of freedom of expression, rule of law and justice upon which Israel was founded.”

Sokatch said the bill is an invitation to “investigate and, ultimately, persecute if not also prosecute Israeli human and civil rights organizations, whose work is critically important to any accountable democracy.”

He said the postponement was “a win for the very voices this legislation intended to stifle, if not silence completely.”

Sokatch’s position was echoed in a statement by Yehuda Weinstein, Israel’s attorney general.

“It is impossible to ignore the chilling effect of such investigative panels, should they be established, on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of association,” Weinstein wrote in a brief filed with Israel’s Supreme Court.

As for the bill that did pass, NGO Monitor applauded it, saying that it helps protect Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation, and provides the appropriate framework to hold foreign governments accountable for their NGO funding.

In a statement, NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg said: “The Knesset action reflects a broad understanding that transparency for foreign government funding of political advocacy NGOs transcends partisan ideology, and is essential to the public’s right to know and to Israeli democracy.”

He added: “The new NGO Funding Transparency law will shed light on the extent of foreign government involvement in Israel, and will demonstrate the failure of existing Israeli law to require funding transparency.” — jta