NGO Funding Among Hot-button Bills on Tap Next Week

Bills would cap foreign governments' contributions to "political" NGOs at NIS 20,000, or slap a 45% tax on foreign governments' donations to NGOs that don't receive state funding.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is slated to consider two bills on Sunday that would severely reduce foreign funding for human rights organizations. The debate over the bills is gearing up as the political system braces for a series of votes on several controversial bills next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already announced that he supports the bill sponsored by two members of his Likud party - MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis - which would cap foreign governments' contributions to "political" non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000. But Yisrael Beiteinu is throwing its weight behind its MK Fania Kirshenbaum's bill, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments' donations to NGOs that don't receive state funding.

opening of knesset winter session - Emil Salman -  October 31, 2011
Lawmakers attending the opening of the Knesset winter session, October 31, 2011.Emil Salman

Both bills are explicitly designed to hit the funding of NGOs that provided information to the Goldstone Commission, whose report on Israel's 2008 war with Hamas in Gaza accused both sides of war crimes. But the Likud bill is considered more legally problematic, given the difficulty in defining what constitutes a "political" NGO.

The ministerial panel is also slated to discuss a bill giving the Knesset Constitution Committee the right to vet candidates for the Supreme Court. This bill, by Likud MKs Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin, was added to the agenda at the last minute after Elkin concluded that he had a majority for it.

If approved by the ministerial committee, all these bills could also come up for preliminary readings in the Knesset plenum next week. But either way, the plenum is slated to vote on three other controversial bills next week.

Monday, it will vote on an amendment to the Libel Law that would raise the compensation that a libel victim can claim without having to prove actual damage from NIS 50,000 to NIS 500,000. This bill, sponsored by Levin and Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, is almost certain to pass, since the coalition supports it, and since Kadima, the main opposition party, is letting its MKs vote their conscience.

That same day, the plenum will vote on a bill abolishing the rule that a justice cannot be appointed Supreme Court president unless he is at least three years short of 70, the mandatory retirement age. It is widely seen as aimed at enabling Justice Asher Grunis to succeed Dorit Beinisch as court president, since he will have slightly less than three years left to serve when she retires.

Finally, the Knesset will hold a series of debates and votes on a bill to change the way the Israel Bar Association's two representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee are chosen. Currently, the bar's national council chooses both; the bill would require one to be the bar chairman and the other to be a member of the bar's internal opposition. It is seen as aimed at facilitating Judge Noam Sohlberg's appointment to the Supreme Court by ensuring that at least one bar representative will side with his backers on the committee.

Coalition sources said they doubt the law can be passed before the bar chooses its new representatives on November 22. But Elkin, the coalition chairman, is considering inserting a clause requiring the bar to choose new representatives once it passes. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman could also defer convening the appointments committee until it passes.

But since the ministry deems the law unconstitutional, it might face a court challenge.