A senior UN official in Geneva last week listed Israel among the countries that she says are restricting the activities of human rights groups.
The statement, issued on Wednesday by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, lists Israel along with countries such as Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
Israel was named due to the bill approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation six months ago to restrict funding by foreign governments to nonprofit organizations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the bill throughout most of its formulation. However, he ordered it frozen after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said such a law would be struck down by the High Court of Justice.
Although the law never reached the Knesset, Pillay said in her statement: "In Israel, the recently adopted Foreign Funding Law could have a major impact on human rights organizations, subjecting them to rigorous reporting requirements, forcing them to declare foreign financial support in all public communications, and threatening heavy penalties for non-compliance."
Israel is the only democratic country listed in Pillay's statement. The others are all dictatorships or developing countries. Among them is Ethiopia, where human rights groups have been shut down by a law prohibiting foreign funding in excess of 10 percent of a group's budget. She also lists Cambodia, where a law is being promoted that would shutter NGOs whose work is found to "harm national unity, culture, customs and traditions of the Cambodian national society." In Belarus, which is ruled by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a law passed in October 2011 criminalizes the acceptance of foreign grants that are outlawed by the legislature.
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Last month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed the Israeli mission to the United Nations in Geneva to cut ties with the UN Human Rights Commission after member countries in the Human Rights Council voted to establish an international commission of inquiry on the West Bank settlements. A senior source in the Foreign Ministry said Israel's inclusion in Pillay's statement was a direct outcome of Lieberman's move. "This was a mistake and now we see the results," the source said.
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