By an overwhelming majority, the Knesset plenum yesterday voted to order the House Committee to consider establishing a parliamentary panel of inquiry into left-wing Israeli organizations that allegedly participate in "delegitimization campaigns against Israel Defense Forces soldiers."

The decision was the result of two separate initiatives sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Fania Kirshenbaum and Likud MK Danny Danon. The motions are aimed at determining whether the sources of funding for these groups are foreign governments or even terrorist organizations.

The House Committee is now expected to discuss the composition of such an inquiry panel as well as its mandate. After the committee concludes its work, the issue will be brought before the Knesset plenum for approval.

The debate inside the legislature yesterday was highly charged, as frequent catcalls prompted Knesset security personnel to make their presence felt in a bid to defuse tensions.

"These groups provided material to the Goldstone Commission [which investigated Operation Cast Lead] and are behind the indictments lodged against Israeli officers and officials around the world," Kirshenbaum said, referring to a series of arrest warrants issued over the last few years.

"They are trying to silence the very people who manage the State of Israel's foreign relations," she declared. "These organizations are responsible for branding IDF soldiers as war criminals and encourage draft-dodging."

"One of these organizations came into a school under the banner of an educational program," Kirshenbaum said. "They tried to explain to children that enlisting in the IDF is an amoral act and showed them ways to avoid conscription."

The Yisrael Beiteinu MK said that the current system of disclosing financial contributions permits groups to conceal their sources of funding, which winds its way through various channels. "Only the last organization which donated the money is the one that reports this contribution to the registry," she said. "It won't surprise you if I say that some of the money comes from Arab countries."

Danon aimed his comments at left-wing parties and organizations that are likely to be investigated by the parliamentary inquiry. "There comes a time when the party is over," the Likud MK said. "A committee of inquiry will examine the links between foreign governments and international bodies and the terrorist groups and other entities that act to purchase state lands or act against other interests," he said. "It will also examine ways in which the state can prevent this illegitimate funding."

Danon, who has expressed interest in heading the committee, has already stated his intention to summon the heads of organizations like B'Tselem, Hamoked, Yesh Din, Bimkom, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Physicians for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Peace Now, and Machsom Watch.

Minister without portfolio Michael Eitan (Likud ), who opposed the establishment of the inquiry panel, sent a letter of protest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which claimed that Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon deliberately misled lawmakers during his remarks to the plenum yesterday. Eitan called on Netanyahu to issue a statement clarifying the government's position on the issue.

Hadash MK Dov Khenin was adamant in denouncing the Knesset decision, likening it to the investigations held by American politicians against suspected Communists in the 1950s. He warned against the establishment of "an anti-democratic committee along the lines of Joseph McCarthy."

"To this day, we believed that Senator Joseph McCarthy died in Wisconsin on May 2, 1957," he said. "Today it turns out that he is alive and well in Jerusalem."

"The panel of inquiry as proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu is a political tribunal aimed at investigating political activities," Khenin said. "[The decision] is not only similar in style to McCarthyism, it is a carbon copy of the anti-democratic model that is remembered in infamy as a dark chapter in American history."