A Law That Shames the Protectors of Israel's Moral Character

The sole aim of the bill that would out NGOs funded by foreign political entities is to label human rights groups and restrict their activities.

Illustration
Illustration Eran Wolkowski

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will meet today to discuss a bill that would obligate an Israeli nonprofit to disclose if it is supported by a foreign political entity, for reasons of transparency. The sole aim of the law, proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), is to label human rights groups and restrict their activities. The proposal will force representatives of NGOs who are chiefly funded by various foreign countries, the United Nations or European Union to wear special badge tags in the Knesset and note this fact in any forum or publication, as part of various restrictions that would apply to them.

This is a disturbing milestone in right-wing efforts to delegitimize and silence these organizations. The process began when former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman attempted to establish a parliamentary panel to investigate human rights groups’ sources of funding. After that, various private members’ bills were proposed whose goal was to prevent certain NGOs from receiving funding based on political criteria – along with campaigns steeped in incitement, such as Im Tirtzu’s recent “foreign agents revealed” video. The goal of such campaigns was to sabotage the public legitimacy and freedom of action of these groups, merely because some of them criticize the government.

Anyone searching for an explanation of the problems the bill is meant to address in the law’s accompanying memoranda – which, compared to private members’ bills, are usually very thorough in government-sponsored bills – will come up empty. The drafters of the legislation were themselves seemingly aware of its real purpose – “shaming” and delegitimizing the NGOs. Therefore, the only goal mentioned in the bill is tautological: the law to increase transparency is “intended to increase transparency.”

The bill does not address the fact that NGOs are already required to fill out regular reports noting every contribution from a foreign country. Nor does it mention the need to resolve any current problem with transparency or misrepresentation. Moreover, the bill does not mention the fact that many NGOs, including some on the right, are supported by private foreign donors about whose interests there is no information. Why are they not held to precisely the same standard of transparency as contributions from friendly countries such as Germany and the United States?

Shaked’s bill represents a severe blow to freedom of expression and the action of organizations working in various fields, who protect Israel’s moral character and image. Those seeking to slander Israel, looking for proof that it’s a country that silences criticism and hides injustices, will pounce on this bill with alacrity. Only in countries like Russia, Egypt and Venezuela does the political realm deal with legislation against human rights groups.

The members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, charged with protecting Israeli democracy, must not support this bill under any circumstances.