Israeli parliament passes transparency law targeting rights groups

Israel's parliament has approved a new law that forces NGOs to disclose foreign government funding in all their official publications, a parliamentary statement said Tuesday. 

Critics had campaigned against the bill for months, charging that it targets especially liberal advocacy groups and seeks to "silence" any human rights organizations or activists who do not follow the conservative government line.

The transparency law was approved by lawmakers in a 57-48 vote late Monday, according to Israel's parliament, known as the Knesset. Fifteen lawmakers in the 120-seat house abstained or were not present.

The legislation was sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the conservative Jewish Home coalition party, which supports the West Bank settlement movement.

It demands that all NGOs specify the names of the foreign governments from which they receive funding in anything they publish.

It applies to all groups that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments. NGOs that violate the law will be fined 29,200 shekels (7,500 dollars), the Knesset statement read.

A highly controversial clause in the bill forcing representatives of foreign-government-sponsored groups to wear special badges when visiting the Knesset had been removed by the draft committee earlier.

Critics said that rule would have singled out representatives of NGOs critical of the Israeli government, and some compared it to Jews having had to wear yellow Star of David badges in Nazi-occupied Germany.  

The critics argue that the law disproportionately targets NGOs on the political left, such as B'Tselem, which documents alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians, and Breaking the Silence, which publishes critical soldiers' testimonies of Israeli military practices against the Palestinians.

Nationalist groups on the other side of the political spectrum are mainly funded through private donations, which must not be declared under the new law.

The authors wrote in a preface that the law sought "to deal with the phenomenon of NGOs in Israel, who represent in a non-transparent manner the outside interests of foreign states, while pretending to be a domestic organization concerned with the interests of the public."

"Imagine that Israel were to fund extra-parliamentary organizations in Britain that supported Brexit, that were interfering in domestic affairs in Britain. What would happen then? Our ambassador would be called in immediately for a dressing down, because Britain's has its national dignity in tact," said Shaked, the bill's sponsor.

Rejecting the criticism, she added: "Our heads are bowed no longer. This law is about nothing more than transparency."

But opposition leader Isaac Herzog, of the centre-left Labour Party, charged that the law "symbolizes the budding fascism that is rising and flourishing in Israeli society."

The rule, whose full title is the Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities Law, will go into effect in January 2017 and only apply to donations received from then on.

Last update: Tue, 12/07/2016 - 17:24
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