Ministers Approve 'Unconstitutional' Bill Penalizing Left-wing NGOs

Proposed law would tax donations from foreign political entities to NGOs urging a boycott of Israel.

A bill to restrict funding to leftist nonprofit organization won the government’s approval Sunady, passing the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by an 8-4 vote. The ministers supporting it belonged to Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, while the four opponents were Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Jacob Perry and Yael German.

The approved version changed two clauses in the original proposal: That a leftist nonprofit would be penalized even if only one member of its board violated one of the clauses for which sanctions are imposed, and that sanctions would be imposed on organizations working against “the Jewish-democratic identity of the state.” The latter clause would have included negating, even implicitly, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, or calling for the separation of religion and state.

In an unusual move, it was agreed that the bill would be debated again by the ministerial panel after it passes its preliminary reading in the Knesset.

Under the revised bill, certain nonprofits that receive donations from a foreign entity would be required to pay a 45 percent tax on the contributions. The law would apply to groups that work for or call on others to boycott Israel, stop investing in Israel, or impose sanctions on the state or its citizens. It would also apply to groups calling to prosecute IDF soldiers for war crimes, subsequently exposing such alleged acts, or calling to investigate them.

Prior to the vote, Deputy Attorney General Avi Licht informed committee members that the bill was unconstitutional. “We would not be able to defend this decision before the High Court of Justice,” he said.

Weinstein: ‘Chilling effect’

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has said the bill violates a series of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. He claims that 45 percent tax is not a tax at all, but a fine, “a kind of punitive measure, which aims to create a ‘chilling effect’ and prevent donations to organizations, thus harming free discourse in Israel, which is one of the key democratic anchors of the state.”

Weinstein added that “restricting donations and undermining the free discourse of third sector organizations, which includes human rights abuses, is done in a number of states that it’s doubtful Israel wants to be lumped together with.”

In 2011, a similar bill was submitted by then-MK (now Deputy Minister) Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu), which imposed a 45 percent tax on donations from foreign countries to organizations that are not supported by the government. Weinstein warned then that the bill was unconstitutional, but Netanyahu said he supported it in principle, subject to several changes including a distinction between organizations whose activities deal with human rights and political groups. He also said he wanted to raise the level of contributions that organizations would be permitted to collect. In the end, Netanyahu did not back that bill, which was merged with another one proposed by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), and which stated that political groups would not be able to raise more than 20,000 shekels ($5,709) from foreign countries.

Meretz chairman MK Zahava Galon said, “The real purpose of the law is incitement against peace groups and against human rights groups, and to harm the contributions to organizations whose perspective is contrary to the views of the settlers and right-wing government.

“This law stems from a clear anti-democracy ideology, and the fact is that no such similar law exists in any democratic country,” she said. “The law will turn the State of Israel into a pariah and an outcast among developed Western countries.”

Michael Fattal