The NGO Bill Is an Embarrassing Stain on the State of Israel's History

The law is nothing more than a show of anti-democratic strength by the nationalist right, aimed at undermining and inciting against human rights organizations and nonprofits affiliated with the left.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and author of the "transparency bill," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset chambers, October 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and author of the "transparency bill," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset chambers, October 13, 2015. Moti Milrod

The so-called NGO bill, which was passed into law by the Knesset Monday night, is an embarrassing stain on the State of Israel’s history and legal code. The law, which mandates special reporting requirements for nongovernmental organizations that get most of their funding from foreign governments, is nothing more than a show of anti-democratic strength by the nationalist right, aimed at undermining and inciting against human rights organizations and nonprofits affiliated with the left.

The law is meant to “increase transparency” but in actuality, the receipt of foreign funding is already reported to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations and appears on the organizations’ websites. The new requirements, such as forcing groups to cite their foreign funding in all published materials, make it clear that the purpose of the law is to demonize these NGOs in the eyes of the public, as if there is something wrong with accepting funds from foundations that get foreign government support. The real desire is to humiliate these organizations.

Further evidence of hypocrisy is that the law, ostensibly based on a similar American one, does not include — as that law does — a requirement to list private donors and other classified sources from which extreme right-wing NGOs like Elad, Regavim, and Im Tirtzu receive assistance. It’s no coincidence that it was Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi who demanded that the NGO law be passed as part of the coalition agreement they signed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although the version that eventually passed was less extreme than earlier versions — dropping demands like requiring NGO representatives to wear nametags when speaking with public officials — the damage to Israel does not end with the undermining of its civil society. It also blackens Israel’s reputation abroad and contributes to its international isolation. The EU hastened to condemn the law, saying that it restricts the activity of Israeli civil society and threatens the foundations of democracy and the values shared with Europe. This criticism follows the sharp censure issued by European Parliament members to President Reuven Rivlin and a letter sent to the Knesset on the matter by the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group of the German Bundestag.

The United States has also expressed its displeasure with the law. In January, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro met with Shaked to convey America’s concern about the bill she was advancing. Similar remarks were made by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in February when she met with Netanyahu.

To enable the shaming of human rights groups and NGOs whose very existence bothers the government, right-wing leaders are dragging down Israeli democracy and threatening the country’s ties with its best friends. The NGO law must be combated in all possible legal ways, like a speedy challenge before the High Court of Justice.