U.S. Warns Israel Over Bill to Limit Foreign Funding to NGOs

U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro tells Israeli officials that Obama administration is concerned by proposed legislation; says it is much more extreme than similar laws in western countries.

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The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, recently relayed a message to senior members of the Prime Minister's Office that the Obama administration is concerned by proposed legislation that will potentially limit funding by foreign governments for nonprofit organizations. Shapiro said the proposed legislation is much more extreme than U.S. law or similar laws in western democracies.

An Israeli source says Shapiro spoke on the subject with the national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, and the PM's political adviser, Ron Dermer, some 10 days ago.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan ShapiroCredit: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

The ambassador stressed that he was instructed by the State Department to make clear to Israel the U.S. stance on the law on funding NGOs.

The exchange between Shapiro and the two senior advisers took place before the drafting of the latest version of the bill, agreed by Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) and representatives of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Shapiro said claims that the bill, proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum, is a translation of the American law is not correct.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and others in Yisrael Beiteinu have argued that the bill which Kirshenbaum proposed is an accurate translation of American law.

According to Kirshenbaum's proposed bill, a 45 percent tax would be levied on contributions received by Israeli NGOs from foreign countries. The new version of the bill will have to pass through a hearing before the Knesset Finance Committee.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel provides funding for a number of NGOs. Examples include NGOs that encourage the teaching of English, coexistence between Jews and Arabs, and bolstering the standing of women in the Bedouin communities.

Shapiro said that all projects funded by the U.S. government are apolitical and are not controversial. However, he added, the bill is too broad and therefore there are concerns that NGOs aided by the U.S. administration will be harmed.

A similar message was relayed by the German ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, during a meeting in recent weeks with members of the PMO and with coalition head, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud). The German ambassador said the bill undermines Israel's image in the world and provides its enemies in Europe with ammunition.

The two main parties in Germany have NGOs associated with them that are active in Israel. These are funded by the parties, and contribute to projects of Israeli NGOs on the left. The German NGOs, affiliated with the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, sent a joint letter to MKs expressing their concerns with the bill.

Read this article in Hebrew: ארה"ב מזהירה את נתניהו: חוק העמותות קיצוני ויפגע בארגונים לגיטימיים

Peace Now, Ir Amim, Association for Civil Rights in IsraelCredit: Haaretz
Yesh Din, Physicians For Human RightsCredit: Haaretz
Left-wing NGOs B'Tselem, Breaking the Silence.Credit: Haaretz