The Knesset passes a law that imposes stricter controls on liberal human rights groups in particular. This draws sharp criticism from the opposition.
Benjamin Netanyahu during Monday night’s session Photo: reuters
Parliament in Israel has passed a controversial law that imposes stricter regulations on numerous human rights organizations. On Monday night, 57 lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill, while 48 opposed it. It targets groups that receive more than half of their grants from foreign governments or political groups. Virtually only liberal organizations are affected. This is because hardline groups rely primarily on private donations, which the law exempts.
The new regulation was correspondingly controversial in the Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu positioned himself as one of their most vehement advocates. There is nothing undemocratic about demanding transparency and thus informing the public about the role of foreign governments in NGO funding, he said. Critics, however, accused the government of trying to target liberal human rights organizations that are skeptical of Israel’s Middle East policies.
The new law requires human rights organizations to disclose whether they receive funding from abroad in all discussions with state officials and through all media channels. Representatives of these groups must also declare such donations when they attend meetings with parliamentary committee chairs. Failure to do so could result in fines.
Earlier versions of the bill were even stricter. Accordingly, non-governmental organizations were to be classified as foreign agents, and taxes on donations from foreign governments were also suggested. Particularly controversial was a passage that would have required representatives of affected organizations to wear special identification badges in the Knesset. The proposal was later dropped.
Parallels with Russia
Despite the ultimately watered-down text, opposition MPs voiced sharp criticism during the hour-long debate that evening. Parliamentarian Nachman Shay stated that Israel would pay for this damage over "many generations." His colleagues also saw parallels in the law with authoritarian policies in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Robert Ilatov of the ultra-nationalist Israel Beitenu party, meanwhile, defended the measure. He had supported it because the "interference in Israel’s internal affairs is unacceptable.
Criticism of the law also arose abroad. Volker Beck, chairman of the German-Israeli parliamentary group and a member of parliament for the Green Party, wrote on Facebook that the "reputation of the Jewish and democratic state would be tarnished for nothing" by the law. In Israel, the group Peace Now announced it would challenge the new regulation in the country’s Supreme Court.