Tzipi Livni Blasts Israeli Finance Minister for Backing Bill Seeking to Out Left-wing NGOs

Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party is expected to support the bill, which would require representatives of groups funded by foreign governments to disclose that in various settings.

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Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at the HaaretzQ conference, December 13, 2015.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at the HaaretzQ conference, December 13, 2015.Credit: Erica Gannett for IRL Productions

Tzipi Livni, the co-leader of the opposition Zionist Union faction in the Knesset, harshly criticized Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the leader of the Kulanu party, over his intention to support a bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday that would impose new regulations on non-profit organization whose funding comes from foreign government. In practice, the legislation would target left-wing organizations.

Sources in Kulanu said the party is required to support the bill because it appears in the coalition agreement governing the creation of the current government. Legislation that receives the support of the ministerial committee is generally assured of final passage because the committee's approval indicates support by the ruling coalition for the proposed law.

"Members of the Kulanu faction need to ask themselves every day, every hour, what they are fighting for and what the significance is of their presence in this government in the face of everyone who voted for them and thought that they represented other values," Livni told Haaretz.

"When you're in the government, there are a thousand and one ways to prevent a bill from advancing," added Livni, who was justice minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's last government. "You can file an appeal, but you can also surrender," she said. "Everyone has responsibility to the public as a whole, and they need to be connected to the values on which they were elected."

The legislation in question, sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Hayabit Hayehudi), would require that non-profits receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments, note it in official publicity and provide details regarding the countries funding their activity in any communication with elected officials. Violators of the provisions would be subject to a 29,000 shekel ($7,500) fine. Representatives of the groups would also be required to wear a special tag at Knesset sessions.

Livni has proposed her own bill that would also require organizations that depend on contributions from individual donors abroad to disclose who they are, which in practice would also subject right-wing organizations to provisions of the law. Livni's bill would allow the Israeli registrar of non-profit organizations to exempt certain non-profits from her proposed law, providing them an exclusion under special circumstances, but the registrar would be require to publicly disclose the reasons.

"I have no problem with transparency," Livni said. "I want to know who the foreigners are who fund all of the non-profits, including Im Tirtzu," a reference to the right-wing Israeli organization that recently made headlines for its video targeting left-wing groups as foreign moles. "This bill applies the principle of transparency, as a default, to everyone. It's not [directed] in opposition to anyone but rather in favor.  It's interesting that every request to apply transparency on this government or on Netanyahu always encounters a no."

Shaked's office issued the following statement on the matter: "All of us considered seeking also to apply the law to a certain extent on private individuals, but after we looked into it, we understood that the subject creates tough legal problems and we reconsidered."

In recent weeks, the Kulanu faction in the Knesset conducted discussions with Justice Minister Shaked over the inclusion in her bill of non-profits that raise money from individual foreign donors abroad, which in practice would include right-wing non-profits that rely on foreign citizens contributions, as Livni's legislation also would, and require the disclosure of the donors in official documents and at Knesset sessions. 

Officials in Kulanu, however, decided to suspend the effort and are seeking instead to develop a different plan out of concern that the current proposal would permit left-wing and right-wing Knesset members to go head-to-head against non-profits out of political motives. 

Due to the coalition agreement, legislation regulating non-profits is expected to receive the unanimous support of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which Shaked chairs. "We think the law is superfluous, unnecessary and causes international harm to Israel," Kulanu Knesset faction head Roy Folkman, who conducted the negotiations with Shaked told Haaretz. The law, he said, creates a "public atmosphere of a witch hunt and [we] need to see how to create something more balanced."

The plan worked out by Folkman and Shaked, which has been shelved in the meantime, would have also applied to non-profits where 80 percent of their donor support comes from foreign individual donors. Under the plan, a Knesset committee would have been given authority to decide which non-profits receiving contributions from individual donors abroad would be covered by the law. Folkman said he asked to shelve the plan over concern that it would provide additional grounds to silence non-profits. "Knesset members from both sides would start submitting requests regarding all kinds of organizations," he said.