Vote on Controversial Israeli NGO Bill Postponed

Discussion on urgent asylum-seeker, stop-and-frisk bills overshadows final decision on controversial legislation targeting leftist groups.

Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who initiated the NGO bill, with Likud MK Gilad Erdan in the Knesset.
Emil Salman

The Knesset postponed the planned Monday evening vote on the so-called NGO transparency bill, that critics say targets leftist NGOs, because of more pressing matters.

The first reading was originally supposed to take place last week but got put off because of a right-wing MK protest over the evacuation of settlers from Hebron, and a decision to leave the parliament early due to fears of a snowstorm.

The coalition has a solid majority to pass the NGO bill, which is backed by opposition member Yisrael Beiteinu. Oren Hazan (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), moreover, have ended the protest they launched last week.

The proposed law, sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), would impose new regulations on NGOs funded mainly by foreign governments, leading critics to claim it unfairly targets left-wing organizations.

Coalition members are unlikely to put the legislation to a vote because they expect to be busy with two other bills – the first an amendment to the Infiltration Law; the second, the stop-and-frisk bill which the Public Security Ministry initiated and is due for its second and third readings.

The vote on the Infiltration Law amendment, which sets parameters for jailing asylum seekers and migrants, is urgent because in August the High Court of Justice gave the government until February 10 to pass a new amendment after it struck down the old one – permitting the incarceration of illegal migrants up to 18 months – which it ruled was an unreasonably long period of time. The new version limits the detention to one year.

The Knesset thus has less than 10 days to pass the bill on all three readings, or else the government will have to shut down the Holot detention facility.

The controversial stop-and-frisk bill will also come up for approval after undergoing a series of changes. The police and Public Security Ministry seek to push through the legislation, which allows for more leeway to frisk suspects and help combat the current terror wave.

Lawmakers dropped the clause from the final version of the bill that would have permitted the police to declare clubs and entertainment venues as areas where they may stop-and-frisk passersby without a reasonable suspicion. Instead, the definition of reasonable suspicion was expanded to include boorish behavior in a public space, including swearing and threats as well as intimidating or scary behavior.

For their part, organizations that feel threatened by the anti-NGO law have continued their attempts to block it. On Sunday Peace Now ramped up its lobbying efforts on Kulanu, calling on its members to break coalition discipline and vote against the legislation, after some Kulanu MKs declared their opposition in principle to it. Peace Now distributed a flyer depicting Kulanu ministers Moshe Kahlon and Yoav Galant, together with party MKs, wearing Im Tirzu T-shirts – referring to the extremist right-wing group.

Also on Sunday, a host of organizations that are liable to suffer under the law, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Sikkuy, issued a joint call to MKs to oppose the bill.

“We call on ministers and MKs who opposed [Im Tirzu’s] 'cultural mole' campaign to vote against the Israeli government’s shameful labeling law, whose sole goal is to delegitimize in public discourse all criticism against government policy and to undermine the most fundamental democratic values,” the groups stated. “In particular, the law seeks to hurt human rights and social change organizations that work to repair Israeli society and give voice to its most vulnerable groups.”