Israeli NGO Bill's Wording Softened, Special Name Tags at Knesset Sessions Won't Be Required

MK Nissan Slomiansky breaks with Habayit Hayehudi, rejects demand for NGOs to identify donors in court petitions, and for staff to wear name tags; opposition MKs slam anti-leftist slant of bill.

Protesters slam the NGO legislation in 2015.
Moti Milrod

Nissan Slomiansky, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a member of Habayit Hayehudi, announced Monday that he will not agree to two elements of the so-called NGO transparency bill that have been supported by his party.

The controversial legislation currently under discussion in the Knesset would mandate reporting of foreign government funding for non-governmental organizations in Israel.

In opposition to his colleagues, Slomiansky rejected the clause in the bill that demands that representatives of the organizations that get funding from foreign governments identify their donors to the High Court of Justice in the event that they petition the court.

In addition, Slomiansky decided to support the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to drop the clause in the original draft that would have required the representatives to wear special name tags when attending Knesset sessions.

Both demands had been promoted by members of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi.

“Sometimes you have to give in on certain issues,” Slomiansky said.

On the other hand, Slomiansky is expected to announce during the next few days that he will not advance the opposition's demand to make the law apply to all NGOs that receive private donations from abroad, and not just from foreign governments.

During a committee hearing on Monday, MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) said that, to his knowledge, the legislation was drawn up specifically to undercut left-wing nonprofit organizations.

“When people from the right thought up the law, they targeted some 100 left-wing nonprofits and human rights groups and thought of how they could harm all of them,” he said. “That’s not just an assumption, that’s a fact. First they identified the human rights groups and then they drew up a law especially for them.

“A careful examination was conducted so that the law would not apply to right-wing nonprofits on the one hand, but would apply to as many as possible left-wing groups on the other," Rosenthal added.

"The computers at the National Registrar of Nonprofit Organizations (amutot, in Hebrew) can’t sort out all this data by simply pressing a button. People were sent to check the reports of every one of the nonprofits targeted and the rate of the contributions to them. When they had the data in hand they set the bar at 50 percent of funding from a foreign country,” he said.

Addressing Slomiansky during the discussion, Yesh Atid MK Yael German said, “You also don’t want a law whose purpose is to persecute groups identifying with the left. We see that all those supported by foreign governments are NGOs known as ‘leftist,’ while other associations get a full exemption because they rely on private donors.”

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), said: “United States law does not distinguish between a foreign entity and a foreign individual. There is no real justification for this. If one is really thinking about transparency, and I have great doubts about this intent, then transparency must be across the board. In this bill there’s no real test of the ability of foreign entities to wield control or influence. This test would be even more valid in the case of a private foreign entity. A private foreign entity can have an influence on the activities of the nonprofit.”

Added Michal Rozin of Meretz: “I appreciate honesty. MK [Betzalel] Smotrich [Habayit Hayehudi] said during the previous debate that ‘We want to stop contributions from foreign countries.’ If that’s what you want, then enact a law to that end. You aren’t doing that because you know it won’t pass the High Court. You want to do a number on these nonprofits and interrogate them at the start of every discussion, ‘Who are you and who contributes to you?’ This is political persecution against NGOs that want to end the occupation.”

In response, Smotrich replied: “With this law we are not seeking to forbid or limit donations from organizations. One can say let’s have a different law, but in a dialogue between us we, decided to go only for this one. The foreign diplomatic entities that support NGOs have influence. You have to meet the very specific interests that the country wants to promote in order to get support. The proof is that there are no NGOs with other agendas getting funding from these organizations.”

Matan Peleg of the hard-right Im Tirtzu movement said: “The attempt to compare individual donors to the millions that are transferred every year by foreign governments and the EU is a mockery. It’s an effort to minimize the stupidity of organizations with foreign funding defending terrorists and their families before the High Court. This constitutes foreign intervention and whoever acts in the shadows to reduce transparency is fundamentally anti-democratic, not to mention taking part in encouraging terror.”