Knesset
A sparsely attended Knesset session in June 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
Text size

Let's assume that a parliamentary committee of inquiry is established to rummage through the papers of human rights groups - which, anyway, the registrar of nonprofit organizations is allowed to do at any time - and let's assume the committee finds out that some of them have long been receiving sizable donations from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Shining Path. So what? Exactly what offense should they be tried for?

Nonprofits in Israel are not limited in terms of their source of funding. They must maintain their books and report every contribution from a "foreign political entity" that exceeds $20,000 and declare its purpose.

Legally, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can contribute a million dollars to Let the Animals Live to build closed shelters for street cats. The association would be prosecuted for contact with an enemy country, but not for the actual receipt of the funding. It could also be prosecuted if makes use of the funds for purposes not included in its charter; for example, if the Iranian contribution went to buy land on the West Bank for settlers. That is the paradox of Israeli law.

But it is not obedience to the law that interests the democra-tyranical Revolutionary Guards in the Knesset. Were these legislative bullies truly worried about a "hostile takeover" of Israeli public discourse by foreign states and groups, or were really concerned about those who want to smear Israel's bad name on the walls of the world, they could adopt the Egyptian nonprofit associations law, which states that no funding is to be received from foreign entities, whether Egyptian or not, without authorization of the minister in charge. Egypt doesn't beat around the bush. Every foreigner is a suspect, particularly if he wants to encourage the fight for civil rights; and, as in Israel, every human rights group is a hostile entity whose entire purpose is to prove that the state has failed. In Jordan the law is even tougher: It requires associations to obtain the approval of "the government," and not only from the minister in charge, to receive foreign funding.

But Israel is not Jordan or Egypt, and it certainly is not Lebanon, where there is no prohibition whatsoever on receiving foreign funding. It is worse. The Knesset does not want to look like the parliaments in the Arab countries, but it does not want to give up the authority to act like them. It wants to act as if there is a law against receiving contributions from foreigners without actually having to legislate it and make a mockery of itself. All it wants to do is "investigate," that is, to brand as suspect all those associations without having to air the issue in a court of law. To pull their pants down in public, to search them and then release them until the next search. Meanwhile, the honorable committee can also send letters to donors and warn that this or that organization to which they have contributed for years is under investigation. It is a suspect. And who wants to donate to an organization under investigation?

The organizations in question are "the usual suspects": Center for the Defense of the Individual; Yesh Din; Ir Amim; Bimkom; the Public Committee Against Torture; Adalah; Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Mossawa Center; Machsom Watch and the Alternative Information Center. All, as we know, are harmful to Israel's good name.

Here,too, Egyptian law can help. Damaging Egypt's image in the world is a criminal offense, for which the sociologist and human rights activist Prof. Saad Eddin Ibrahim has been convicted. Similar laws protect the image of other countries in the region, and as the parliament of a country that is becoming more integrated into the Middle East, the Knesset would do well to adopt this law as well, and apply it to every citizen. After all, private citizens, and not only nonprofit groups, can destroy the pure image of Israel.

We can try another simple solution. The Knesset could pass a law that would fully fund the work of nonprofits and prohibit them from receiving money from any foreign entity. That way the Knesset could oversee how money is spent and decide the goals of these groups. The government would fund the humanitarian aid group Latet and Doctors Without Borders and write checks to Adalah. They would all be suckled by the government, and the government alone could dictate the content and makeup of Israeli civil society. Unrealistic? Undemocratic? But, after all, that is this Knesset's specialty.