Netanyahu Seeks to Limit Political NGOs' Role in Future Israeli Elections

Proposed legislation would limit expenditures of groups like V15, which campaigned to topple Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party in Israel's 2015 election.

V15 activists, with Itamar Weizmann (C), watch as the election results are announced, March 17, 2015.
Ilya Melnikov

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to limit the role of and left- and right-wing NGOs in election campaigns, after the V15 organization buffeted his rivals efforts to topple him in last year's election.

According to legislation proposed by Likud lawmaker Yoav Kisch, such organizations would be subject to laws governing party propaganda, ceilings would be set on how much money they may raise or spend in a campaign, sums which would be subject to the state comptroller's scrutiny.

By definition the proposed bill, debated at a coalition meeting on Sunday, pertains to organizations which conduct polls, and offer voters rides to polling stations, organizations which seek out potential voters and advertise on behalf of specific parties.

"We all wondered during the last elections how so much money was being spent and how this was legal," said Kisch, explaining his motive for initiating the bill.

"We were witness to an attempt to sidestep the law," he alleged, saying the NGOS' spending went unchecked  because they weren't subject to party spending limits set by the law. 

"We mustn't let our elections deteriorate to the style of American campaigns. V15 led to just such a situation which is what we are trying to correct," Kisch said.

His bill as presented at Sunday's meeting includes a long line of restrictions that would be imposed such as setting a maximum 1,000 shekel ceiling for contributions from any individual donor, which in an election year could be expanded to 2,300 shekels.

It also proposes requiring all donations be published by the non-party organization at least 30 days before the campaign, and for making these rules enforceable by the state comptroller.

A source familiar with the legislation said that "in recent years both right and left wing parties have taken steps to in effect privatize election campaigns, by means of organizations with similar world views spending beyond the scope of what party budgets permit.  

The source said the bill would prevent "unfair damage to some of the parties," especially smaller parties seen as suffering as a result of such practices "where these NGOs muster large sums mainly to reinforce certain potential candidates' campaigns for prime minister."

V15 said in response: "Israel is larger and better than Bibi Netanyahu. We are a movement with hundreds of thousands of Israeli members who want to see Israel with a leadership it deserves."

"Israel isn't Turkey and Netanyah cannod behave like Erdogan and stamp out democratic rights to protest against the worst government in Israel's history," V15 said.

This article was amended on March 8: The proposed legislation would target left- and right-wing NGOs and not as originally published.