New Israeli Bill Would Have Left-wing NGOs Pay for Info From State

Proposed law would affect nonprofits that get over 50% of their funding from foreign governments and submit requests under Freedom of Information Act.

Israeli lawmakers attending a vote on a bill at the Knesset, February 6, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

In yet another attempt to make life harder for left-wing nongovernmental organizations, a proposed new law would require them to pay to obtain information from government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act.

Currently, all NGOs are exempt from paying a fee for information obtained under this act. However, the new bill seeks not only to revoke this exemption for organizations that get more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments, but would require them to pay double the normal fee.

Almost all the NGOs that meet this criterion are left-wing, since they are the ones that foreign governments generally choose to finance.

“The Israeli taxpayer shouldn’t have to bear the costs of providing information to hostile players financed by the European Union and foreign governments,” said the bill’s sponsor, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi).

She argued that the Freedom of Information Act exempted NGOs from paying the fee, based on the assumption “that they use this information for the good of the public. But radical left-wing organizations use this information to harm Israel.”

Matan Peleg, CEO of the far-right Im Tirtzu organization that lobbied Moalem-Refaeli to propose the bill, stressed that the legislation would not bar foreign-funded NGOs from obtaining information from government agencies, but would merely make them pay for the privilege.

“Anyone who acts in the service of foreign governments, to the tune of millions of shekels every year, doesn’t also need the Israeli taxpayer to fund it,” he said. “If they want it, they should pay – and a lot. There’s no logic in allowing organizations that act as foreign agents in every respect to wear down the establishment for free, which comes at the expense of the ordinary citizen. We must end the system of ‘the state financing its enemies.’”

The current fee for obtaining information under the Freedom of Information Act comes to just 20 shekels ($5.40). Nevertheless, a source involved in drafting the bill said that even this nominal sum would add up to a financial burden for the NGOs, since “some file dozens of requests per year.” He cited Hamoked – the Center for the Defense of the Individual and Gisha – the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement as the two left-wing groups that filed the most freedom of information requests last year.

Last July, the Knesset passed legislation requiring any organization that gets a majority of its funding from foreign governments to declare this in all its official publications. At the time, the Registrar of Nonprofit Organizations said the law would apply to 27 NGOs, of which 25 were identified with the left and none with the right.

Two weeks ago, MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu) submitted a bill that would require any NGO that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from foreign governments to state as much in all court filings, too. In addition, the NGO would have to submit its financing agreements with the foreign governments to the court, together with its brief, and the case file would then be sent to the Foreign Ministry for an opinion on whether the case could affect Israel’s foreign relations.