Leftists Denounce New Bill on NGO Funding as 'McCarthyist'

Bill would require Israeli NGOs to disclose every donation they receive from foreign governments, or from any source mostly funded by a foreign government.

A bill that would require Israeli nongovernmental organizations to report every donation they receive from foreign governments, or from any source mostly funded by a foreign government, was approved for first reading by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday.

The bill, which would subject NGOs that fail to report such donations to a NIS 30,000 fine, has been branded "McCarthyist" by left-wing and civil rights groups.

Coalition whip Zeev Elkin (Likud ) said the bill aimed "to prevent a recurrence of the Goldstone report, which is mostly based on material provided by Israeli organizations ... financed by foreign states. The NGOs sometimes cooperate with foreign bodies that use them to infiltrate messages or acts opposed to Israeli interests."

The bill "will protect Israelis from foreign influence that is not compatible with national needs and interests," Elkin added.

Coalition whip Zeev Elkin
Olivier Fitoussi

But it is not clear whether the wording approved on Monday would actually bar Israeli NGOs from helping international investigative committees like the Goldstone panel, as its sponsors had sought.

The bill does not require exposing private donors' identities, probably because academic institutions objected to disclosing anonymous donors. A former government registrar of nonprofit organizations, Yaron Keidar, said yesterday the bill was merely a "bureaucratic nuisance" and contributes nothing to the existing system supervising NGOs.

"NGOs are already obliged to give a detailed report of any foreign donation, anyway," he said in a legal opinion he prepared ahead of the debate.

Leftist parties, calling the bill "McCarthyist," said it infringes on freedom of association and seeks to intimidate legitimate NGOs whose positions are opposed to the coalition's.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel charged that the bill would exploit transparency regulations to undermine the legitimate activity of NGOs based on their political opinions.

"Freedom of association is not subject to political horse-trading; it is the preserve of anyone who wants to organize to advance civil causes, whether a given party or political majority at any given time likes it or not," an ACRI spokesman said.