Lawmakers Warn anti-NGO Law Could Harm Israeli Arab, Women's Lobby

The aim of the so-called V15 bill is to ‘prevent clearly political party activity' to be carried out under 'cover of nonpartisan activity.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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V15's new ad. Image courtesy of V15.
V15's new ad. Image courtesy of V15.
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Knesset members from both the opposition and the coalition warned Monday that passage of the so-called V15 bill limiting the political involvement of nongovernmental organizations in election campaigns would outlaw the transport of Arab voters to the polls and prevent the women’s lobby from encouraging voters to support parties headed by women.

The bill is named after an NGO that was active in support of the Labor Party-led Zionist Union during the last elections. According to the U.S. Senate, it used databases it had previously acquired for nonpolitical purposes which had been funded at the time by the Senate.

MKs from Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism, both members of the coalition, joined with MKs from Meretz, Yesh Atid and Zionist Union to point out flaws in the proposed legislation during a preliminary discussion on the latest revision of the bill, submitted by MK Yoav Kish (LIkud). Kulanu MKs, whose votes could tip the balance when the bill comes up for approval, did not attend the meeting.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said the bill would prevent the women’s lobby calling on voters to support parties led by women, and other organizations couldn’t call on voters to support candidates of their choice, such as a kippah-wearing candidate.

“If the women’s lobby were to call on voters to vote for parties headed by women, how would your law deal with that?” she asked. “When we talk about this section, we’ll bring up the point you raised,” Kish replied.

MK Nissan Smolianski (Habayit Hayehudi) was also critical of the revised bill. “We have to pass legislation that prevents wealthy interests from interfering with and influencing the political system,” he said. “On the other hand, we must be extra careful not to block a part of the public or an organization that wants to act on behalf of a certain goal, and limit the restriction to cases of intervention that aims to influence an election campaign and the political climate in the country.”

MK Uri Maklev (Habayit Hayehudi) warned that the law could seriously impact voting rates in Arab and Haredi towns, since it would make it impossible to provide organized transportation for voters identified with a particular party. “You wanted to catch the wolf, but you’re killing the whole village,” he said.

MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) took another tack. “You’re saying one thing and doing just the opposite,” she said. “Look at Israel Hayom newspaper, for instance. The sponsors of this bill don’t want money to influence the political system, but meanwhile they’re putting out a paper that’s distributed for free.”

The bill passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset a few weeks ago but has since undergone a major revision. According to the new version, NGOs will be able to budget up to 100,000 shekels ($26,500) on a campaign or other activity parallel to that of a political party during the election season.

The previous version stipulated that NGOs could accept a contribution of 1,000 shekels annually from an individual donor in a nonelection year and up to 2,300 shekels in an election year, with no limit on the total budget. If the draft law is passed, the extent of NGO involvement political campaigns will be significantly reduced.

“In order to prevent circumvention of the Party Funding Law, there will also be provisions in the law aimed at creating transparency in the costs and modes of action of parties that purchase databases of potential voters,” according to the revised proposal.

According to Kish, “The proposed change strikes a balance between the preservation of freedom of expression and the need to prevent clearly political party activity carried out under cover of nonpartisan activity and without the restrictions imposed on involved parties.

“Such activity must be subordinated to the party funding laws, in order to prevent involvement of funds originating abroad and of foreign elements in the process of Knesset elections.”

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