New Bill Aims to Limit State-funded Volunteers at Israeli Left-wing NGOs

Legislation follows similar criteria as controversial 'NGO law,' by targeting organizations that receive at least half of their funding from abroad.

Thousands march in Tel Aviv in protest of incitement against Rivlin, leftist NGOs. December 19, 2015.
Moti Milrod

New legislation will seek to reduce the number young people volunteering with left-wing nongovernmental organizations whose funding comes mostly from foreign governments as an alternative to military service.

According to figures from the Agriculture Ministry, which is in charge of administering the alternative national service for those who are exempt from enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces, 11 positions were allocated in 2015 to NGOs that met the criteria of the new billl, among them the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and B’Tselem. Other sources of information indicate a different distribution, which includes more NGOs.

The extent of the reduction the bill seeks is unknown.

“Something is wrong with the immune system of the State of Israel,” said MK Amir Ohana (Likud), who is spearheading the new legislation. “It is inconceivable that we ourselves will provide subsidized human resources to groups that work for the interests of foreign countries, present Israel as a war criminal, protect the greatest terrorists and slander IDF soldiers who protect us all day and night.”

Another source involved in the legislation said that its goal is “to prevent the involvement of foreign governments in the activities of non-profit groups in Israel. There is no reason that an organization that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from another country should receive a position. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Amir Ohana speaking in Knesset, December 28, 2015.
Knesset spokesperson

After Ohana failed in his attempts over the past few months to keep such groups from receiving alternative national service personnel, he decided to present it as a bill to the Knesset. “I tried to stop this absurdity by means of a question from the floor to the agriculture minister, who is responsible for alternative national service, but unfortunately we saw no change in policy,” he said.

The wording of the bill is concise. It states that alternative national service “will not be held in an entity, association or institution which is mostly funded by a foreign country.”

The bill targets the left-wing organizations in the same way as the so-called "NGO law" that the Knesset passed in July; it required 27 NGOs, 25 of which are human rights groups, to publicly report their sources of financing.

The right-wing group Im Tirtzu, which supported that legislation, is also behind the new bill.

According to figures given to Im Tirtzu by the Agriculture Ministry through the Freedom of Information Law, in 2015 the state allocated five positions to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, four to the NGO Israel Social TV and one each to B’Tselem and Gisha.

“Remember that Europe's involvement in Israel’s internal matters has grown greatly in recent years and it seems that it is never satisfied,” said Im Tirtzu director Matan Peleg. As an example, he cited European construction for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, over which Israel has full security and civil control, and “hundreds of High Court petitions from Israeli organizations, operating a caucus for legislative changes from the inside, funding groups that work against Israel in the country and beyond, and more.” Ohana said his bill was meant “to protect the institution of alternative national service from that growing internal involvement,” calling such involvement “fundamentally undemocratic.”