U.S., EU Pressure Netanyahu to Scrap Proposed Bill Against Israeli NGOs

EU ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, warns prime minister's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror that passage of legislation could harm Israel's standing.

The European Union and the United States, as well as other countries, have begun applying pressure on the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging that proposed legislation limiting funding by foreign governments of Israeli nonprofit organizations be scrapped.

The EU's ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, contacted the prime minister's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, on Thursday and warned him that passage of the legislation could harm Israel's standing in the West as a democratic country.

Benjamin Netanyahu - AP - November 2011

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will consider Likud's version of the proposed law, sponsored by MK Ofir Akunis, on Sunday. It would bar political nonprofit organizations from receiving more than NIS 20,000 from foreign governments or international agencies such as the UN or the EU.

An explanation in support of the bill - which is also supported by Netanyahu himself - said it was necessary in light of what were called "acts of incitement by many organizations operating in the guise of human rights organizations that seek to influence political discourse, the character, and policy of the State of Israel."

At the same time, Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ) is sponsoring a similar bill that would require Israeli nonprofits that don't receive Israeli government funding pay a 45 percent tax on all proceeds from foreign governments.

Diplomats posted here from three European countries said the two bills are prompting great concern within the EU. One diplomat said the bills are problematic both with regard to potential harm to the countries' activities in Israel, and with regard to what he said was their anti-democratic character.

A diplomat familiar with the situation said that the EU's Standley told Amidror that the proposed laws are viewed as an attempt to limit civil society activity in Israel, calling the proposals part of a wider disturbing development.

For his part, Amidror is said to have replied with a defense of the legislation, calling foreign funding of nonprofits interference in Israel's internal affairs.

A senior Israeli official acknowledged that if the bills pass in their current form, they would cause a severe crisis with the EU. Standley has contacted all of the embassies in Israel that represent EU countries, urging them to register their own concerns regarding the legislation. EU ambassadors here are to meet on Tuesday to discuss the issue. The office of the EU in Israel has also approached the embassies of three non-EU countries - the United States, Canada and Norway - to coordinate the diplomatic response that Israel receives.

The embassies of Britain and the Netherlands, both countries that fund a number of left-wing organizations in Israel, have already begun to take action on the issue.

The British ambassador here, Matthew Gould, is said to have told Akunis that Britain supports the promotion of human rights in a large number of countries in an effort to advance universal values, and that the funding is not directed against the Israeli government.

In addition to individual EU countries, including Denmark, Belgium and Spain, as well as the U.K. and the Dutch government, the EU itself funds Israeli nonprofits. The United States and Canada do so too, and the American embassy has registered its own concern to the Prime Minister's Office.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: ארה"ב ואירופה לוחצות על לשכת רה"מ: לא להגביל תרומות לארגוני השמאל