U.S. Warns 'NGO Law' Could Have 'Chilling Effect' on Israel's Civil Society

Critical comments from U.S. come after EU issued a similar warning of the effects of the 'NGO Bill.'

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Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked delivers a speech during a conference in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, June 6, 2016.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked delivers a speech during a conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 6, 2016.Credit: Tamas Kovacs, MTI via AP

The U.S. voiced severe criticism Tuesday of a new Israeli law that targets left wing organizations. The so-called NGO Law, officially named the Transparency Law and passed into law Monday, could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel, the U.S. State Department said.

John Kirby, the spokesperson for the State Department, said that though a number of the White House's concerns that were voiced before Jerusalem were addressed in the law's final wording, the U.S. is "still very concerned about the impact this law might have on the worthwhile activities of Israeli NGOs."

He further said that U.S. President Barack Obama has said on numerous occasions that freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, civil society and the ability to voice dissent and criticism are hallmarks of a healthy democracy.

The law, which passed its second and third readings 57-48, mandates special reporting requirements for nongovernmental organizations that get most of their funding from foreign governments, and, according to critics, disproportionately targets human rights organizations.

According to the Justice Ministry, there are only 27 organizations in Israel that get more than half their funding from foreign governments. Of these, 25 are human rights organizations identified with the left.

Earlier Tuesday, the European Union sharply criticized the law, saying that it goes "beyond the legitimate need for transparency" and that it "seem[s] aimed at constraining the activities of ... civil society organizations working in Israel."

"Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear," the EU spokesman's office said.