The Knesset plenum on Monday night approved the first reading of the ”NGO transparency bill”, which states that, in addition to an existing law requiring the reporting of foreign government funding, any nonprofit organization that receives most of its funding from a foreign political entity will have to label itself as such in any publications.
Under the draft legislation, NGOs would also have to list which countries support it at any forum at which they meet with elected officials and in their advertisements.
Fifty MKs voted in favor of the bill in its first reading, and 43 opposed.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (HaBayit HaYehudi), who introduced the bill, said ”After years in which the left used transparency as an administrative tool against the right, you began to think that you own transparency. As if transparency is a property which is registered in your father’s name. You in the left cry out at the very use of the term ‘transparency’ as if something that belongs to you was taken away.”
”Transparency does not belong to you,” she said in her speech. ”And it turns out that you will need to accept the fact that sometimes this important issue will be promoted by members of leftist parties and sometimes by members of rightist parties. Integrity, transparency and good governance are matters that are not promoted by only one party in this room. These are values we should all aspire to, even if sometimes it is less pleasant for you.”
Justice Minister Shaked (archives)
”Most of you,” added Shaked, ”are disconnected from democracy and the rule of majority. In your definition, democracy is the rule of justice. Of course, you think that only you know how to define what is just. Justice is another idea you might think is registered under your name.”
While Shaked was speaking, Meretz MKs Tamar Zandberg and Esawi Frej were removed from the plenum for interrupting her.
Addressing Shaked`s comments, MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said: ”George Orwell has come back to life and has spoken here from the Knesset podium. It`s simply unbelievable – dark is light, silencing is democracy. The Justice Minister supports Im Tirtzu and speaks to us about contributions to NGOs? Im Tirtzu – the organization whose main contributor is John Hagee, a Hitler supporter.”
Khenin argued that ”there is no problem with the transparency of human rights groups. Everything is transparent. Everything is known. All of the immunities and secrets are in the rightist organizations: the Yesha Council, Im Tirtzu, the Elad Foundation – that is where transparency is needed, but there the government does not promote any transparency.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon also criticized Shaked’s remarks and said, ”The Justice Minister uttered the name of transparency in vain. You speak of transparency? Why did not you report to us on the identity of your anonymous donors, one of whom is suspected of drug and weapons trafficking?”
”This is not transparency; it is political persecution,” Galon stated. ”Those who slander Israel are actually Ayelet Shaked and her settler friends. The world hates Israel not because of what the [leftist] organizations make public, but because of the occupation.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Camp) said, ”This law is not transparency, it is a yellow badge law for human rights NGOs. These are organizations of peace, which has become a derogatory word in this day and age. This is the most hypocritical law the Knesset has seen in a while.”
MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) mentioned that she had recently met in the US with Members of Congress ”who are shocked by this proposal” and said ”If we want transparency, let`s apply it to everyone. How is a private donor different from a foreign country? Private donors who have all kinds of shady businesses, that`s okay?”
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) said the bill is meant to ”destroy civil society in the State of Israel, hurt its freedom and values and adjust it to the Netanyahu Government`s unacceptable values. This is a government of empty people who have declared war on the media, the education system, the non-governmental organizations and our culture… the members of this government are betraying the people who sent them here.”
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said: ”Democracy according to the ruling government is the force-feeding law and the infiltrators law. They say `let`s get rid of the refugees and Arabs now and label all the leftist NGOs, and eventually we will have 61 Knesset members who will determine what democracy is, what is allowed and what is forbidden.` This terrible law, which will distance the countries of the world from us and label the country with a black label of anti-democracy, includes organizations such as the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Bizchut – The Israeli Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, Education for Peace, and others. And then the government comes and talks about democracy.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said the bill aims to ”hurt the human rights groups, which are the last light. There is a link between this bill and the proposal regarding the suspension of Knesset Members. Even if 119 MKs want to suspend one Knesset Member, it is an undemocratic process, because that MK was elected [to the Knesset].”
MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List faction, said: ”The Athenian parliament collapsed when members of parliament decided to suspend other members of parliament. We are on a slippery slope where the democratic sphere is being eroded. If we speak of loyalty, it is important to ask whether the government is loyal to its poor citizens and Arab citizens. The head of the inciters is Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who is delegitimizing anyone who thinks differently, only to stay in power.”
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) responded to the criticism leveled by the opposition and said ”Who are you trying to fool? The Israeli public does not believe your stories anymore. The code of silence of the left in Israel demeans the public in Israel and jeopardizes the sovereignty of the State of Israel.”
MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint List) told the plenum that ”the rage and bewilderment should be directed at the Knesset Members who never think they should console bereaved Palestinian families. He who distinguishes between blood and blood is racist, dangerous and cruel.”
Zoabi, whose remarks caused an uproar in the plenum, continued to speak after her time was up and was eventually removed from the podium by ushers.
MK Yair Lapid, chairman of Yesh Atid, said the bill ”defeats the purpose,” adding ”I have been fighting these NGOs way before all those who are waking up only now. You are strengthening these bizarre leftist organizations and giving them the legitimacy of European governments. This makes it easier for them to collect donations and turns them into legitimate organizations under the auspices of European governments.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) said the coalition has not examined the possible effects of the bill on Israel`s status in ”the most important [international] forums,” and added ”you have no idea what damage it causes to friends of Israel and those who defend it.”
The bill will now be transferred to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which will prepare it for its second and third readings.