Israel Deals Blow to Human Rights Groups With National Service Bill

Ministers back bill to prohibit organizations from employing national service volunteers if they get majority of funding from foreign governments. As such, it'll mostly affect left-wing and human rights NGOs.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Israelis protest a previous bill that targeted non-profits funded by foreign states, 2015.
Israelis protest a previous bill that targeted non-profits funded by foreign states, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

A ministerial panel voted Sunday to lend its support to a bill that would no longer allow national service volunteers to serve at non-profits that get the majority of their funding from foreign governments.

This bill is expected to affect mostly left-wing groups and human rights organizations, though only a small number of national service positions are expected to be eliminated if it passes.

The vote by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation indicates support for the bill by the coalition. Because the coalition has a majority in the Knesset, that generally ensures passage of the bill, although it could be subject to changes. The legislation, which was introduced by Likud Knesset member Amir Ohana, passed the committee unanimously and it is due for a preliminary vote on Wednesday in the first of four votes required for it to become law.

It has been agreed, however, that it would only advance through the legislative process in coordination with the Justice Ministry. As currently drafted, the bill disqualifies institutions that receive most of their funding from “contributions from a foreign state entity.”

The definition of the affected organizations is similar to the legislation passed in July on disclosure required by non-profits receiving foreign government funding. In the case of July’s legislation, it was found to affect 26 non-profit groups, including 25 human rights organizations.

The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization worked for the passage in recent years of legislation regulating such non-profits, and, in addition to Ohana, it promoted the current legislation as well.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, which is responsible for administering the national service authority, over the past year only 11 volunteer positions were assigned to organizations that received most of their funding from foreign governments. The groups included the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and B’Tselem, which focuses on human rights in the territories.

The freedom of information officer at the ministry, Ilan Yisrael, said last year the government allocated five national service positions at Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, four to a non-profit called Israel Social Television, and one each at B’Tselem and Gisha.

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