Netanyahu Seeks to Clamp Down on Human-rights Groups and Bar Funding From Foreign States

Netanyahu says the current law, which only requires disclosure of foreign gov't funding, is too weak

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, June 11, 2017
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, June 11, 2017 Marc Israel Salem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current law requiring some non-profit groups to disclose funding they receive from foreign governments is too weak, adding that he intends to push for legislation that would completely bar Israeli non-profit organizations from receiving foreign government funds.

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Noting that he had managed to stop such funding from the Norwegian government, he said there is a need for an overall ban. The remark is an apparent reference to a request by Israel to the Norwegian government seeking to halt Norway's financial assistance to a Palestinian women's organization named after Dalal Mughrabi, who led a terrorist cell that killed 37 people in an attack in 1978 near Tel Aviv. 

Netanyahu said that the Norwegians acceded to the request, which he said was submitted as part of what he called "Israel's decisive foreign policy."

If the bill will completely forbid receiving donations from foreign countries, many other groups that aren’t political will also lose an important source of income. Countries whose funding will be rejected might protest and cancel other donations to non-controversial public enterprises. 

The current law, which the Knesset passed in July of last year, requires Israeli organizations that receive a majority of their financial support from governments overseas to disclose it to the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations and to disclose it in their official publications.

The current law mainly targets human-rights groups, which receive most of their funding from overseas. 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.

If the new law is drafted in a sophisticated manner – like the current law – so that it applies only to left-wing organizations, the High Court of Justice might strike it for violating freedom of expression and for the unequal impact it will have on the ability of these groups to raise budgets compared to other organizations.