Israeli Cabinet Greenlights Bill Limiting NGOs' Funding of Political Campaigns

Anti-Netanyahu group V15 named specifically in bill's explanatory notes.

V15 activists, with Itamar Weizmann (C), watch as the election results are announced, March 17, 2015.
Ilya Melnikov

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave a green light on Sunday to a proposed law to limit nonprofit organizations’ funding of political campaigns. The next step for the bill, expected later this week, is a preliminary vote in the Knesset, where it's expected to pass.

The bill has been called the “V15 Law” after the NGO that waged an extensive electoral campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year. The bill proposes that such groups will be subject to the law regulating the financing of political parties, which will greatly restrict their ability to raise money.

The bill includes a long list of restrictions on nonprofits, including a 1,000-shekel ($250) limit on any individual donation in non-election years and a 2,300-shekel limit in election years – the same rules that apply to political parties. Donations will be published on organization websites at least 30 days before the official beginning of an election campaign, and will be subject to oversight by the state comptroller.

The law defines for the first time “groups that operate during elections,” including ones that conduct political polling during the campaign, offer transportation to polling stations, identify potential voters for specific parties or publish ads in the media intended to encourage people to vote for a specific party.

In explanatory notes accompanying the bill, the sponsors write that they wish to avoid situations such as those that arise in the United States, where there are no limits on sums given by the wealthy to candidates they support, or which allows ways to circumvent campaign spending limits.

The sponsors cite V15 specifically, and its recent campaign as the main motivation for proposing the new bill. “The group published negative messages about some candidates, mainly Netanyahu, without publicly supporting any other candidate,” they write.

“According to the current law, engaging in campaigning without any official party affiliation can still assist a particular party while avoiding financial restrictions. This activity thwarts the intent of the law and enables financial influence by foreign agents or by corporations, which is forbidden,” write the bill’s proponents.

Coalition parties agreed to pass the bill in its preliminary reading, but it would not be sent to any Knesset committee or be advanced until a version is agreed upon between the heads of the parties making up the coalition.

Committee chairwoman Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked proposed formulating a new, agreed upon version during the upcoming Knesset spring recess, but instead decided to abstain after the agreement was reached not to advance the law after its preliminary reading. On Saturday Shaked said the bill is too extreme and does not allow civil political activism during election campaigns. According to her, the bill could also impose large costs on political parties, which would harm smaller parties.

The Knesset is expected to approve the bill in its preliminary reading.

The bill is sponsored by MK Yoav Kish (Likud). Last Wednesday Kish spoke to all the ministers on the committee in an attempt to convince them to support the bill. Netanyahu has embraced the bill, presenting it to the heads of all coalition parties at a meeting a few weeks ago.

V15, which in recent months has operated under the new name Darkenu, said two weeks ago after it became known that Netanyahu supports the bill: “Israel is larger and better than Bibi Netanyahu. We are a movement with hundreds of thousands of Israeli members who want to see Israel with a leadership it deserves. Israel isn’t Turkey and Netanyahu cannot behave like Erdogan and stamp out democratic rights to protest against the worst government in Israel’s history.”