At the conclusion of a lengthy plenary debate, during which the opposition factions raised numerous objections, the Knesset passed into law late Monday the so-called ”NGO bill.”
The bill, officially titled the “Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities Bill,” which passed its third and final vote by 57-48, requires that NGOs who meet the criterion of receiving more than half their income from foreign governments report this fact each year to the NGO Registrar in the Justice Ministry, which will publish a list of said NGOs.
NGOs that are on the list must note this fact on their websites for the rest of the year. They must also note this fact on any publications related to the NGO’s advocacy that are readily available to the public, as well as in their communications with public servants and elected officials.
They are also required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before said committee.
NGOs that will violate the law will be fined NIS 29,200. The law will not apply retroactively, meaning these organizations will not have to declare such contributions that were received in the past. The law will go into effect in January 2017 and will only apply to donations received from then on.
(Minister Ayelet Shaked)
The final law is a merger of three separate bills submitted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (her proposal was sponsored by the government) and MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu) and Bezalel Smotrich (HaBayit HaYehudi).
In its explanatory preface, the authors of the law say that it seeks “to deal with the phenomenon of NGO’s who represent in Israel, in a non-transparent manner, the outside interests of foreign states, while pretending to be a domestic organization concerned with the interests of the Israeli public.”
During the debate, Minister Shaked said, “Imagine that Israel were to fund extra-parliamentary organizations in Britain that supported Brexit; that we were interfering in the domestic affairs of Britain. What would happen then? Our ambassador would be called in immediately for a dressing-down, because Britain has its national dignity intact.”
“Until now, we accepted [such foreign intervention] with bowed heads. Our heads are bowed no longer. This law is about nothing more than transparency.”
She called on opposition lawmakers not to take their case to the High Court of Justice. “Remember that you fought over this bill with parliamentary tools. Your battle must be fought here [in the Knesset]. That’s how you fight in a healthy democracy. You don’t fail here and then run to the High Court.”
While presenting the legislation to the plenum, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit HaYehudi), chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, argued that a donor government “doesn’t always know exactly which organization is receiving their money, and if it knew, it’s possible it would not donate to some of the organizations, because it would not want to be involved in some of the issues that certain groups deal with.”
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) charged that the law “symbolizes the budding fascism that is rising and flourishing in Israeli society” and makes a “mockery” of the “right to organize, which is a sacred founding principle of a democratic society.”
Herzog argued that some of the groups that will be affected by the law “advance noble goals of women’s equality, equality for the gay community, for minorities, for the weak, the needy, the destitute, the poor.” Many organizations turn to foreign governments “because this government has failed” to advance those issues, the opposition leader charged.
(MK Nissan Slomiansky)
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said, ”Only a ludicrous government that cannot look reality in the eye covers itself with democratic terms for the sole purpose of political persecution. Let us not be confused: the purpose of this law is the targeted killing of a precise list of organizations that are identified with the left in Israel.”
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp), called the right’s arguments for the new law “dishonest.”
“If you really wanted transparency, you’d have adopted my bill, which requires that everyone, but everyone, report on the sources of their income. This is nothing more than a campaign to divide Israeli society, one that reached its apotheosis already in the last elections,” she said.
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) told the bill’s supporters that the list mandated by the new law was “a badge of honor, a group of courageous nonprofits and organizations that are only strengthened by your campaign of delegitimization.
“You chose to persecute two kinds of organizations: those working for equality and those battling against the occupation. With that, you’ve clearly marked your enemies — peace and equality,” Odeh said.
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said the legislation seeks to ”label and shame leftist groups, and by doing so it also hurts the right. I believe and know that it is not only the left that wants to preserve human dignity and civil rights. We have to decide whether we want to support a discriminatory, unequal law which seeks to impose fear and limit freedom of expression, or whether we are loyal to the principles of our leaders from the right and left, while safeguarding our democracy.”
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said, ”Various speakers have already said that the law has buds of fascism. The law marks certain organizations with a certain political line – clearly it deals with leftist organizations, human rights, but not with the donations of private individuals; gangsters from France, for instance. A gangster from France can donate; this law will not apply to him. Those who receive donations from a gangster, or from movements that are close to anti-Jewish views even, or from messianic movements in the United States, or from racists from Belgium or Denmark – they can continue receiving contributions.”