Two bills restricting human rights organizations in Israel that were put on hold are now back on the legislative table. The proposed laws which would significantly curtail the ability of organizations to seek donations overseas will be brought to a vote next Sunday by the ministerial legislative committee.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced this week that he supports legislation of these bills, and will back their handling and approval by the ministerial committee. These are legislative initiatives that were discussed by the ministerial committee last June. Their handling was frozen at the request of Minister Benny Begin (Likud ), so as to avoid international criticism of Israel ahead of the Palestinian attempt to gain statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.
The proposed bills seek to cause economic harm to human rights groups which relayed information to the special UN committee headed by Judge Goldstone following the IDF's Operation Cast Lead on the Gaza Strip. According to a proposal forwarded by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ), and backed by Netanyahu, political NPOs in Israel would not be allowed to receive donations exceeding NIS 20,000 provided by foreign governments and international organizations such as the UN and the European Union. According to the bill, "inciting activity undertaken by many organizations, under the cover of human rights work, has the goal of influencing political debates, and the character and the policies of the state of Israel."
Sources close to the Knesset relay that this is a problematic proposal, and is unlikely to be endorsed by the High Court as it is now formulated. The main problem is the difficulty of fixing a legal definition of an NPO's "political" activity. Nonetheless, Netanyahu's backing of Akunis' proposal is expected to be a decisive factor impinging on the ministerial committee's deliberations. The coalition is likely to mobilize in favor of the bill, prior to its being brought to a vote in the Knesset.
Akunis told Haaretz on Monday that "this is a just, logical law that eliminates an anomalous situation in which foreign states intervene in Israel's political discourse via the conferral of money given in the form of donations to NPOs that pursue political goals. Incidentally, this pertains entirely to NPOs sponsored by the left." The MK added that "the fact that a state such as England can donate money to a movement such as Peace Now is blatantly unfair. This is a law which will bring justice."
The ministerial committee will also decide whether to support another proposal, sponsored by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ), stipulating that an NPO not supported by the state of Israel will have to pay taxes at a rate of 45% on all revenue provided by a foreign government.
"Operating in Israel are organizations which have the goal of denouncing the state of Israel to the world at large, and transforming IDF soldiers and officers into pariah figures, while defaming their reputations. Such organizations receive financing from foreign sources and states, and the goal of these funds is to harm and alter public discourse in Israel," claims the preamble to this proposed bill.
Kirshenbaum decided in the past to put legislation of this proposal on hold, as she moved to establish in the Knesset a parliamentary committee to investigate human rights organizations. She explained that her rationale was to allow such a special committee to examine the activities of certain human rights groups and draw conclusions. Working simultaneously on a bill to restrict the activities of these groups would have been an encumbrance, the MK says. The Knesset, however, blocked the establishment of this special parliamentary investigative committee, and so Kirshenbaum has decided to renew legislative work on behalf of the proposal to slap a high tax burden on certain human rights groups. She wants the ministerial committee to discuss her proposal as soon as possible. Sources in the Knesset estimate that her bill is formulated in a way that circumvents legal obstacles, and possibly preempts suspicion that the bill is prejudicial toward human rights organizations associated with the left.
The renewed attempts to legislate the two proposed laws stirred consternation among human rights groups Monday. "We will continue to do what we do even without money," vowed Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for the B'Tselem group. "We will continue even if they continue to legislate bills whose goal is to silence us. We might have less financing, but they'll have to find other ways to stifle the criticism - they'll have to put us in prison."