Attorney General: Bill Against Pro-boycott Israel Groups Is Unconstitutional

Ministerial committee to discuss bill penalizing non-profits Sunday.

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A controversial bill that would penalize any non-profit organization if one of its executives calls for a boycott of Israel is to be discussed Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The proposed law - which Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has described as unconstitutional - would levy a tax of 45 percent on any donation from foreign political entities to NPOs, if one of the organization's managers has expressed support for a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or its citizens.

The bill, sponsored by the Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi parties, will also apply to those groups in which one of its leaders has called to put Israeli soldiers on trial in international bodies, or supports an armed struggle by an enemy country or terrorist organization against the State of Israel.

Weinstein will submit his formal opinion to the Ministerial Committee, saying that if the bill is made into law and challenged in court, he will not be able to defend it. The attorney general said that the bill infringes on a number of constitutional rights enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. He said what was presented as a tax hike was in his view a de facto fine intended to create a chilling effect on donations to the non-profits in question, which would harm freedom of expression in Israel. “Limiting donations and harming non-profit organizations’ free speech, and in general harming human rights is something done by a group of countries that it is doubtful that Israel wants to join,” said Weinstein. He added that even if the purpose of the bill was proper, which he said he doubted, it exceeded any sense of proportion because of the serious ramifications it was likely to cause.

The issue of proportionality is important because under Israeli law the state may undertake an act that harms a right in one of Israel’s Basic Laws if it is consistent with the values of the State of Israel, intended for a proper purpose and the harm done is proportionate.

The explanatory preface to the proposed law states it “wants to reduce the involvement of foreign policy entities in Israeli democracy, which is conducted via financial support for non-profit organizations, whose goals, or activities in practice, grossly exceed the limits of the Israeli democratic discussion and are an attempt to cause real harm and are a significant and serious interference in the basic characteristics of the State of Israel and its sovereignty.”

If the Ministerial Committee votes to give the bill government backing, it will then go to the Knesset later this week for its preliminary reading.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who chairs the committee, is expected to oppose the bill. She called the bill undemocratic and inappropriate yesterday. If the committee does approve the bill today, Livni is expected to appeal the vote.

In 2011, a similar bill was proposed by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu), that would have levied a 45 percent tax rate on donations from foreign states to organizations not supported by the State of Israel. Weinstein warned at that time that the bill was unconstitutional, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that in principle he supported the bill with some adjustments, including distinguishing between organizations whose activities focus on human rights and those that are identified with political causes. In the end, Netanyahu froze the bill and it did not advance in the Knesset.

A New York protester calling for a boycott of Israel.Credit: AP

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