British Envoy Warns Israel Over 'Damaging' Bill Targeting NGOs

In response to Ministerial Committee for Legislation approval of bill, Matthew Gould tells Israeli officials that the law would damage the country's international standing.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The British ambassador to Israel has warned top Israeli officials over the proposed law that would penalize leftist nonprofit organizations, approved last Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The bill would levy a 45 percent tax on donation from foreign political entities or governments to NGOs that support calls for a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or its citizens, call for placing Israeli soldiers on trial in international courts, or support an armed struggle by an enemy country or terrorist organization against Israel.

The ambassador, Matthew Gould, has spoken with a number of senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office in recent days, said a source involved in the matter, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Gould emphasized that if the law is passed by the Knesset, “Israel’s international standing would be damaged,” and Israel would find itself in an “odd company of states” which place limitations on human rights and civil society organizations.

The British ambassador did not say so explicitly, but hinted at countries such as Russia and Egypt, where similar laws have been passed recently.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation last week approved giving government backing to the bill sponsored by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) to tax funding for nonprofits that support BDS. Seven ministers from Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi supported the bill, while three ministers from Yesh Atid opposed it, as did the chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni has appealed the decision, and the committee will conduct a revote.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has described the proposed law as possibly unconstitutional, and said he will be unable to defend it in court. The attorney general said 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 impact on donations to the nonprofits in question, which would harm freedom of expression in Israel.

Britain also warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the last Knesset – when similar legislation was proposed but not advanced – against such legislation. The British government provides funding for a number of left-wing organizations in Israel.

In November 2011, before a debate over similar legislation in the Ministerial Committee, the British ambassador asked then National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to block the bill. The ambassadors of the United States, European Union, Germany and The Netherlands also asked the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office to block such legislation.

Amidror attended the committee meeting on the law at the time and urged the ministers to vote it down, saying it would damage Israel’s international standing.

Some of the ministers were furious with Amidror, saying Netanyahu himself had personally instructed them before the meeting to support the bill. The committee approved the bill, but ultimately Netanyahu bowed to international pressure and the legislation did not advance in the Knesset.

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