Ambassador Shapiro Tells Minister Shaked: U.S. Concerned by 'NGO Transparency Bill'

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Ayelet Shaked during a Knesset committee session in 2014.Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90/JTA

United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has expressed his government’s concerns over potential adverse effects of the "NGO transparency bill" that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is pushing through the Knesset in a meeting he held with her Sunday.

The bill would require Israeli NGOs that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to be labeled as such when in the Knesset. A senior American official remarked that Shapiro made it clear to Shaked that in contrast to her assertions, the bill has no similarity whatsoever to any legislation in the United States.

Shaked’s bill passed through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation a few weeks ago and is now being debated in the Knesset. The meeting between Shapiro and Shaked followed other meetings the ambassador has had in recent weeks with Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office officials, in which he informed them that the United States is dissatisfied with this bill. The ambassadors of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and the European Union have conveyed similar messages reached Shaked and the PMO.

On Monday, the U.S. embassy issued a highly irregular statement regarding the Shapiro-Shaked meeting.

“Among the topics discussed was the government’s draft NGO bill, which would require Israeli NGOs who receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to be labeled as such,” stated the announcement. “Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the Minister, and noted the U.S. government’s concerns on the matter.”

The U.S. embassy further stated: “The Ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society.  He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”

A senior U.S, official remarked that one of the goals of the meeting was to respond to claims that Shaked has made in recent weeks that her bill is no different from the American’s foreign agent law. Shapiro told Shaked there is absolutely no similarity between the two.

The U.S. embassy issued an additional statement in which it provided information about the differences between the American law and the justice minister’s bill. It noted that the U.S. law does not put any limitations or additional demands of transparency on NGOs that receive donations from abroad “other than those generally applicable” to all American citizens.

“In contrast, the draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities. That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works,” the embassy remarked. “FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity.  As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”

The embassy statement ended by saying "Ambassador Shapiro and Minister Shaked agreed to continue their dialogue on this and other issues of mutual concern."

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