Knesset to Vote Wednesday on Investigations Into Funding of Human Rights Groups in Israel

Fate of controversial NGO funding bill is not known in advance as some MKs may change their vote depending on if it is a secret ballot.

The Knesset is expected to vote Wednesday on the bill to create committees to examine the funding sources for Israeli human rights organizations. Haaretz has determined that the draft law will fail by a few votes, assuming that Likud MKs who oppose the proposal show up and vote against it. The precise voting patterns for some parties represented in the Knesset, including Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism, is not known.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would vote against the bill but even before his announcement it became apparent that most of his Likud cabinet colleagues opposed it. The majority of Likud MKs, however, are thought to support the measure.

lieberman - Emil Salman - July 20 2011
Emil Salman

Coalition member Yisrael Beiteinu, one of the parties behind the measure, said it would demand a roll call vote, in which each MK is asked to state how they voted, rather than relying solely on a secret ballot. That might keep some right-wing MKs who nevertheless oppose the investigative committees from voting in order to avoid damaging their popularity with their constituents. Likud party workers have been lobbying their party's MKs to support the draft bill.

Kadima has said it would impose party discipline in voting against the bill but it remains to be seen whether all MKs will report for today's vote. The votes of Kadima MKs Otniel Schneller and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich are specifically not known at this stage.

Yisrael Beiteinu MK Fania Kirshenbaum, co-sponsor of the bill together with Likud MK Danny Danon, is expected to head one of the committees if the law is enacted. She said yesterday: "The Israeli public wants MKs to show some backbone and take action against those seeking to hurt Israel Defense Force soldiers and the state. I welcome the fact that this will be a roll call vote, each MK according to his conscience, so the public sees where the heart of each representative of the public lies." Kirshenbaum said the findings of the committees would be followed by appropriate action.

Danon asked Netanyahu to reconsider his opposition to the bill. According to Danon, most of the human rights organizations operating in Israel are "outside the Israeli consensus, and some even consciously work against the state as a Jewish and democratic state." He also said many of them receive funds from foreign governments.

Parliamentary investigative committees of the type proposed in the bill do not have the authority to impose sanctions or to issue binding summonses to representatives of the organizations in their sights.

Some of the target groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights emphasized yesterday that they would not cooperate with any such committee.

Knesset legal adviser, Eyal Yinon said in an opinion issued several months ago that the proposed committees would deal "for the first time with clearly ideological subjects, and seek to deal with organizations identified with only one side of the political map, which is currently in the opposition." The panels, he said, would seek to deal with what would be interpreted as narrowing and limiting fundamental rights in a democratic system, including freedom of expression, freedom of protest and freedom of political organization, "rights at the very heart of democratic governance," Yinon said.

The composition of the proposed committees has already been set. They would be controlled by parties on the right of the political spectrum.

Rachel Liel, the executive director of the New Israel Fund, said: "If the Knesset wanted to discover the funding sources of the organizations all it has to do is go to the organizations' websites."