Dr. Bibi and Mr. Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Initiated Extreme NGO Bill, but Also Softened It at the Last Minute

Netanyahu has yet to reveal the wording of the draconian NGO law he intends to promote, but it will likely run into diplomatic and legal difficulties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 6, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to reveal the wording of the draconian NGO law he intends on promoting, but it is expected to raise diplomatic and legal difficulties.

If the bill will completely forbid receiving donations from foreign countries, many other groups that aren’t political will also lose an important source of income. Countries whose funding will be rejected might protest and cancel other donations to non-controversial public enterprises. If the new law is drafted in a sophisticated manner – like the current law – so that it applies only to left-wing organizations, the High Court of Justice might strike it for violating freedom of expression and for the unequal impact it will have on the ability of these groups to raise budgets compared to other organizations.       

Netanyahu is well aware of these difficulties. Even though he had previously initiated an extreme version of the NGO bill, he himself was the one behind the softening of one of its controversial clauses. In accordance with Netanyahu's demand, the clause demanding NGO representatives wear tags stating that their activity was funded by foreign governments in all meetings at the Knesset and the government was dropped. Another decision determined that in contrast to the original version, representatives wouldn’t have to declare the identity of their donor countries at the beginning of every Knesset or government discussion, but rather would have to do so while signing up for such discussions. The wording of the law passed states that the representatives of the NGOs would be required to answer questions on the issue should they be asked about it by lawmakers during the discussions.

At the same time, another of Netanyahu's demands ultimately wasn’t met: According to this demand, the obligation to report donations from foreign countries would have been mandatory "from the first dollar" the governments passed to the organizations. Had Netanyahu's demand been met, the law would have also applied to groups associated with the right, as well as to groups with no political affiliation, and have become a burden on them too.

The NGO law discriminates between left-wing and right-wing organizations using a sophisticated clause: The law doesn’t clearly state that it will apply to left-wing groups, but to groups that over half of their budgets comes from foreign governments. A check reveals that the vast majority of groups that this clause applies to are groups affiliated with the left. Under the new law, these groups are required to reveal their funding sources and report the donations to the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations, and the registrar will be required to publish a list of these groups on his website. The NGOs will also be required to state this fact in their publications and in letters to elected officials or civil servants.

In published reports aimed at the public, the groups will have to note that the names of the foreign entities can be found in the registrar's website. Organizations that don’t comply with the law's requirements will be fined 29,200 shekels.