Israel's NGO Bill Will Not Be Retroactive, Justice Ministry Decides

'By 2018 there will be a different government here and an opportunity to act to change this law. If we had to report beginning now, the reality would be very bleak,' says activist.

Protesters against the new bill 'marking' foreign-funded NGOs outside Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's house, December 27, 2015.
Moti Milrod

The bill requiring non-governmental organizations to report foreign sources of funding will not be enforced retroactively and will only go into effect in the next fiscal year, the Justice Ministry has announced.

The news is considered an achievement for the NGOs that rely on foreign government funding, since there had been talk in the Knesset committee in charge of the draft law that it would be applied from this year or earlier.

The bill, which was passed in the first of its three reading in the Knesset, will require the NGOs that are affected by it to report their foreign funding starting in 2017. The reports for 2017 are due in mid-2018.

Former Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer, who worked to prevent retroactive application of the law, said: “The justice minister’s desire to see people in civil society humiliating themselves publicly will have to wait at least two years. Until then we will continue to fight, politically and legislatively, so the law targeting NGOs will be no more than a passing episode.”

An activist from another organization said: “By 2018 there will be a different government here and an opportunity to act to change this law. If we had to report beginning now, the reality would be very bleak.”

The Justice Ministry also decided that NGOs would not have to cite the donor countries each time they approach Israeli officials, as had been planned. They would only have to do so at the start of Knesset committee meetings, and not at every meeting at the Knesset or government ministries as originally envisioned.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to prepare the bill for its second and third readings in the Knesset. Ahead of this meeting, Gilad Naveh of the Knesset legal department said that most Western countries have no similar law requiring NGOs to reveal foreign sources of funding. According to a survey by the department, carried out at the request of MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), no such laws exist in the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and India.

A 1938 law in the United States mandates the disclosure of foreign funding sources but does not distinguish between private and government foreign sources.

Moreover, the test for application of that law has narrowed over the years to a test of “intent and control,” and not just monetary contributions.