Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a conference of jurists earlier this week raised hopes that perhaps the prime minister had decided to repel the recent wave of bills proposed by his right-wing coalition colleagues. Netanyahu used the occasion to make clear what should have been self-evident: “Democracy is not just majority votes and majority rule. There is no way to run a democracy without checks and balances among the different branches of government.”
But words are one thing, and actions are another: Netanyahu’s support for the revised bill to restrict donations by foreign governments to left-wing organizations is an ill-conceived attempt to exploit his parliamentary majority to undermine Israeli democracy. Social-welfare and human-rights organizations are one of the pillars that help preserve the balance between the different branches of government.
The new bill, cosponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, is even worse than the original version that Netanyahu agreed to shelve. This time, the right seeks to completely bar donations by foreign governments to organizations that reject Israel’s existence, incite to racism, support armed struggle against Israel, support indicting elected officials or Israel Defense Forces soldiers in international courts, advocate refusal to serve in the army, or support boycotting Israel. Moreover, organizations that aren’t also funded by the Israeli government would have to pay a 45 percent tax on donations from foreign governments.
The bill would authorize the finance minister and the Knesset Finance Committee to exempt certain organizations from this tax, based on criteria that haven’t yet been set. In that way, the cabinet and Knesset would essentially acquire judicial authority over civil society organizations, whose purpose is to provide oversight of the executive and legislative branches.
Moreover, the bill discriminates against human rights organizations identified with the left, as well as against peace organizations: It doesn’t apply to groups that get donations from foreign organizations or individuals – donations that serve to bolster the settlements and finance right-wing extremist activity.
A survey published by Haaretz yesterday found that only a minority of Israelis (37 percent) support proposals to restrict leftist organizations, the Supreme Court and the media. The public is aware of the danger looming over Israeli democracy. If the prime minister is sensitive to the public’s mood, he must immediately put an end to his colleagues’ witch hunt.
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