European Lawmakers Urge Netanyahu to Rethink 'Transparency Bill'

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and author of the "transparency bill," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset chambers, October 13, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and author of the "transparency bill," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in Knesset chambers, October 13, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod

Four German members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday expressing concern about the so-called “transparency bill.”

The four, three of whom are members of the pro-Israel group in the EU parliament, wrote that if the law passes it will restrict the activity of civil society and infringe on Israel’s democracy. They also wrote that the new law would infringe on freedom of expression in Israel and in turn harm relations between Israel and Germany.

The contentious bill, advanced by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would require non-profits receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments to wear an identifying tag when in the Knesset, and note it in their official publications. In practice, the legislation would affect left-wing organizations almost exclusively.

All four writers are delegates of German parties in the European Parliament in Strassbourg. Three of them – Jan Philipp Albrecht, Arne Lietz and Alexander Graf – are members of the pro-Israel group in the EU parliament. The fourth is Reinhard Butikofer.

Stressing their commitment to relations with Israel, the four wrote they were concerned that the law would jeopardize the activity of German foundations operating in Israel and representing the various German parties.

Several left-wing NGOs in Israel receive contributions from six foundations belonging to various German political parties, whose activity is financed by the German taxpayer. These foundations have offices in various countries, including Israel, and they advance values like democracy and human rights.

The bill is expected to be raised in the Knesset tomorrow for first reading. The controversial demand to tag left-wing and human rights NGOs’ representatives who attend Knesset debates has been removed from the bill’s amended draft.

The European parliamentarians wrote that “any restriction of activities in Israel’s outstanding civil society would be an impediment for the freedom of expression in Israel, which would in turn also affect the exceptionally strong relations between our two countries.”

In their letter, the members of the Delegation for Relations with Israel and of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, noted their long-term commitment to relations with Israel, and called Israel’s democracy “an invaluable achievement, especially in light of the unstable situation in the region...

“We fear that this new law – if adopted by the Knesset – would fundamentally restrict the work of Israeli NGOs and the activities of Israel’s civil society overall. In particular, we are concerned that the law in its current form would restrict Israel’s pluralistic civil society in its ability to unfold freely and complicate, if not obstruct, the work of various NGOs within Israel,” they write.

They add that they support transparency regarding organizations’ funding sources. But “we find it difficult to understand why this draft law addresses only certain parts of civil society while others, mainly privately funded NGOs with substantial impact on Israeli politics and legislation, are excluded.”

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