Four leading German legislators who head the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group in the Bundestag, and who represent Germany’s large parties, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday expressing their concern about a bill that would restrict the activities of left-wing NGOs in Israel.
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The four wrote that if the bill, being promoted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, is passed, it would make it difficult for Israel’s friends in Germany to help Israel fend off boycotts and attempts at delegitimization, and asked Netanyahu to “rethink” the proposed legislation.
The bill would obligate any group that receives more than half of its funding from “foreign diplomatic entities” to state this in its publications, and force their representatives to wear identifying tags when they come to the Knesset.
Many left-wing groups in Israel get donations from six foundations affiliated with political parties in Germany. These foundations have offices in many countries, including Israel, where they promote principles such as democracy and human rights.
The four – friendship group chairman Volker Beck of the Greens Party, deputy chairwoman Gitta Connemann of the ruling Christian Democratic Party; deputy chairwoman Kerstin Griese of the Social Democratic Party, and Jan Korte of the Left Party – are considered the leaders of the campaign on Israel’s behalf in Germany. Only recently they protested to the Berlin-based KaDeWe department store when it removed settlement products from its shelves, which evidently was a factor in leading the store to reverse its decision.
“We feel an especially strong commitment to the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. We are aware of our historic responsibility for the security of the State of Israel,” the legislators wrote to Netanyahu.
“Since its foundation in 1948, the State of Israel and its citizens have been constantly exposed to attacks, terrorism and war. In this unstable region it is remarkable that the State of Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East, has not abandoned its principles of democracy and the rule of law and, instead, has defended these principles against both internal and external attacks. There is no other country in the world which permits such a vibrant civil society despite the threats posed by terrorism and war.”
In this context, they said, they were concerned that the “Transparency Law” being advanced by Shaked threatens those Israeli values that they so admire.
“This legislative initiative would fundamentally change the work of Israeli NGOs and thus the activities of civil society as a whole,” they wrote. “A law of this sort is out of line with the function of role model performed by Israel’s democracy.”
The German MPs added that they understood the desire to make the work of the NGOs more transparent, but stressed that the law’s current wording focuses on NGOs that get funds from foreign governments and are associated with the left, while it would not apply to political groups that influence Israeli public opinion but get their money from private sources. Most such NGOs are affiliated with the right.
“We are in favor of measures to enhance transparency, yet double standards and excessive hampering of activities through red tape should be avoided,” they wrote. “We are expressing this criticism because, as friends of Israel, we fear a weakening of democracy and freedom of expression. This legislative project thus also weakens us in our engagement as friends of Israel – which we have to defend against verbal attacks almost every day.”
The letter comes eight days after another letter was sent to Netanyahu by representatives of the six German foundations that operate in Israel. These representatives also asked the prime minister to reconsider the bill, saying its passage was liable to undermine relations between Israel and Germany.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the parliamentarians’ letter had yet to reach his office. The letter from the foundation representatives had reached the office, but had not yet been given to Netanyahu to read, the office said.