Rebellion Looms as Controversial Israeli NGO Bill Faces First Vote

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Bezalel Smotrich speaking in the Knesset, November 16, 2015.
Bezalel Smotrich speaking in the Knesset, November 16, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The controversial “NGO transparency law” is expected to have its first reading in the Knesset on Monday. A number of coalition MKs, including Oren Hazan (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), are threatening to skip the vote in protest over the eviction of settlers in Hebron from the houses they took over last week.

The proposed law would impose new regulations on NGOs funded mainly by foreign governments, leading critics to claim it unfairly targets left wing organizations.

File photo: Yachad members on a tour of Hebron organized by anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence. Credit: Rocco Giasante

Coalition chairman MK Tzachi Hanegbi said he believed the government would be able to muster the necessary majority to pass the various bills, despite the protest. “From the point of view of the coalition no change is expected this week in the Knesset agenda,” he said threatening that “steps will be taken against MKs who hamper the coalition, as has happened in the past.”

Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is expected to vote in favor of the bill, even though it is in the opposition, and if necessary provide the votes needed to pass its first reading and send it to committee, the next step in the legislative process.

Kulanu Party Chairman Moshe Kahlon.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Opposition parties are trying to influence Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party and have them vote against the bill, or at least abstain.

The “Transparency Bill,” sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would require non-profits receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments to note it in their official publications. In practice, the legislation would affect left-wing organizations almost exclusively.

Justice Minister Shaked. Her demand that leftist NGOs need to wear special badges in the Knesset is a first indication of what is to come.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Kulanu is considered the soft underbelly of the coalition concerning the law. Even though the party’s MKs are required to vote in favor because of coalition agreements, as its passage into law was promised to Hayabit Hayehudi as part of its coalition agreement with Netanyahu, Kulanu MKs oppose the bill.

In addition to requiring that NGOs receiving most of their funding from foreign governments note it publicly, the bill demands that the organizations provide details about that funding in any communication with elected officials. Violators of the provisions would be subject to a 29,000-shekel (about $7,500) fine. Representatives of the groups would also be required to wear a special tag at Knesset sessions.

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) gesticulating during Tuesday's raucous meeting of the Knesset Education Committee.

MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) has made it clear he will not support the bill in its present form as approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation a few weeks ago. Last week, a revised version of the bill was presented that would remove the requirement for NGO representatives to wear such identifying tags, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported this amendment. But Oren has still not announced whether he would support this milder form of the bill.

MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu) said he would vote for the bill even though he opposes it. “We think the law is superfluous, unnecessary and will cause international harm to Israel,” he told Haaretz.

The law creates “an atmosphere of a witch hunt. We need to see how to create something more balanced,” said Folkman.

Peace Now started a campaign against Kulanu over the weekend in an attempt to put pressure on its MKs not to support the bill. “Today you are labeling human rights organizations, who will you label tomorrow?” Peace Now asks Kulanu MKs in a video clip posted on social media sites.

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