Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, has passed the controversial “NGO bill” late Monday, as human rights groups claimed the bill seeks to “silence criticism”.
The legislation -- also referred to as the "transparency bill" -- which compels left-wing organizations to make their foreign funding public in official publications and at government meetings, passed into Israeli law amid severe criticism by left-wing groups in Israel and within the international community who have claimed the bill represents a concerted attack against groups working on Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Gilad Grossman, spokesman for rights group Yesh Din -- one of the groups singled out in the bill -- told Ma'an last month that the bill was an attempt to "paint human rights organizations as foreign agents."
Later last month, a modified version of the bill received approval in the Knesset, allowing it to enter its second and third readings.
“The very existence of this law aims to harm and prevent a specific type of organization from acting proudly for the sake of Israeli society,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”
The Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now also condemned the bill’s passage, saying that the bill was “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. Unfortunately, this is only one of many pending laws leading to a severe deterioration in Israel's democracy,” the group said.
Peace Now also announced that they would be challenging the new legislation in Israel’s Supreme Court.
The bill was first introduced by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked -- also the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party -- and has aimed to require that NGOs reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from foreign entities, in a move she said would crack down on groups who receive foreign funds in order to criticize Israel.
The controversial legislation provoked outrage among left-wing organizations in Israel, who have claimed to be unfairly targeted in the bill, as the bill would not apply to right-wing organizations who rely largely on private funding.
Since organizations in Israel which rely on foreign funding also tend to oppose the government’s right-wing policies against Palestinians, the potential legislation has been deemed an attempt to weed out human rights groups working to denounce large-scale human rights violations in the occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the list of NGOs singled out in the bill was released by The Jerusalem Post, revealing that 23 out of the 25 organizations were left-wing groups, with the two other groups reportedly being centrist or non-affiliated.
No right-wing organizations were listed, confirming fears among Israel’s left that the bill was being proposed as an attempt to disrupt the activities of left-wing organizations in Israel.
The modified version of the bill, which passed in the Knesset, would still require relevant NGOs to make their funding public on all written publications or correspondences with public officials if more than half their funding comes from foreign bodies.
Failure to do so would result in fines of up to $29,200 shekels ($7,500).
However, the current version would no longer force representatives of the NGOs to wear name tags with the name of their organizations displayed during Knesset meetings, and would not require representatives to announce their funding sources before speaking during Knesset meetings.
The relevant organizations would instead be required to declare their funding sources to the Knesset committee in order to attend a government hearing.