Israel passes law targeting human rights groups

Israel’s parliament has approved a law that will require more than two dozen Israeli human rights groups to prominently declare that they receive over half their funding from foreign governments.

Known as the “transparency bill,” critics say the law is in fact meant to brand human rights groups as illegitimate.

After a lengthy debate on Monday night, the law received final appoval by 57 to 48 votes.

In response, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, issued a timid admonishment.

“Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society,” the European Commission claimed. “This new legislation risks undermining these values.”

In June, the justice ministry released the list of organizations that would be affected by the law. The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that 25 of the 27 listed organizations worked on human rights or social justice issues.

They include well-known organizations such as B’Tselem, Who Profits, Breaking the Silence and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.

By applying only to nongovernmental organizations funded by foreign governments, the law shields right-wing and settlement groups in Israel that are lavishly funded by wealthy individuals and private groups from abroad.

For instance, a Haaretz investigation found that US private donors funneled $220 million worth of tax-deductible donations to West Bank settlements between 2009 and 2013.

A recent lawsuit filed in the US alleges that a coterie of wealthy Americans, including Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, Hillary Clinton backer Haim Saban, the recently deceased bingo king Irving Moskowitz and Oracle founder Lawrence Ellison, have sent $1 billion to fund the Israeli occupation, with $104 million going to the Israeli army in 2014.

After the law passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would help “prevent an absurd situation, in which foreign states meddle in Israel’s internal affairs by funding NGOs without the Israeli public being aware of it.”

Public records of Netanyahu’s last three election campaigns show that 90 percent of his contributions came from the United States, of which half was given by just three families.

Adalah, the Palestinian legal rights group based in Haifa in present-day Israel, described the law as a “grotesque game” that is “intended to persecute and incite against human rights organizations, a practice which is characteristic of dark regimes both past and present.”

Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who sponsored the bill last November, has stated that she does not believe that foreign governments should fund any political NGOs in Israel.

Redundant

The law requires groups to report their source of funding to Israel’s registrar for nonprofits, publish the information on their websites, and state it in official documents, including letters to government officials.

Initial versions had required that representatives of the targeted organizations wear special tags when speaking at Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Israeli NGOs are already required to report their sources of income to the registrar’s office, which makes the information publicly available.

“It is therefore clear that the purpose of the law is to mark human rights groups that offer alternative positions and critique government policy,” Adalah said.

UN human rights experts have expressed concern that the law will chill speech of human rights group in Israel by subjecting them to unique penalties and requirements.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, told The Guardian the law aimed to “intimidate and wipe away the few organizations that act and fight in the public sphere for equality to the Arab public.”

Israeli opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, denounced the law, telling reporters that it is “indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society.”

The law will go into effect on the first day of next year.

Tags

Comments

picture

“Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy...” Does it? Are the Palestinians under illegal occupation, and the 1.5 million refugees and their descendents, from 1948's ethnic cleansing, able to partake in Israels's so-called 'vibrant democracy'?

picture

The 68-year subjugation of Palestinians on their own land is shameful. As Herzog imparts, Israel is sliding into fascism, not to mention it is already an imperialistic, land-stealing and apartheid state.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.