Israeli Minister Wants to Outlaw Groups Seeking to Try Soldiers in International Court

Attempts underway to revise so-called 'NGO Bill' could face tough legal test but sources say Breaking the Silence would be under threat

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

An Israeli minister is pushing for language in a new bill that would let the state shut down nonprofit organizations in the country who work to bring Israeli soldiers to justice before international courts.

According to a source involved in the legislation, the change will be in a clause of a new NGO law and will be worded so that one of the organizations meeting this criteria will be Breaking the Silence.

Breaking the Silence has become a symbol for the government in their fight against leftist NGOs. Formed by Israeli army veterans, it urges fellow veterans to speak out about alleged abuses they witnessed, or took part in, during their service in the West Bank or Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated the drafting of legislation that was harsher towards non-profit groups that criticize the Israeli army, and which receive funding by foreign countries.

He asked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to draft the change in the law, arguing that the present law only requires these groups to submit financial reports.

Sources involved in formulating the bill say that Levin and the team working with him are struggling with the wording of the clause that would make bringing Israeli soldiers to international courts illegal. Its unclear whether such a move would be legally permissible or whether it would be supported by Likud’s coalition partners.

Perhaps, the goverment's hardline approach towards leftist NGOs, as Levin put it in the recent months, will bring about diplomatic and legal difficulties. An overarching ban on receiving donations from foreign countries as this new bill proposes, would also deprive non-politically oriented NGOs from an important source of budgeting. The countries from which donations will be barred will probably protest the move by pulling donations from noncontroversial projects. Also, if the law disproportionally targets left wing organizations, the high court may strike it down.

Netanyahu is well aware of all these difficulties and it was he that pushed to soften the wording of the original law that the government is now trying to change.

According to the current law, which passed in July, Israeli organizations that receive the bulk of their funding from foreign nations and organizations like the EU or UN will be required to declare the income with the authority in charge of nonprofits. That information can then by published online.

Such organizations are also required to make their funding information known in all of its publications, advertisements and even in its letters to officials and lawmakers. Those who fail to follow the criteria will be fined tens of thousands of shekels.

According to the Justice Ministry, some 25 of the 27 organizations effected by the law are human right organizations identified with the left.

During a meeting of coalition party leaders that took place four months ago, Netanyahu revealed that in the past he was successful in halting the flow of money from Norway to Israel, as part of "foreign countries' attacks on Israel."

Netanyahu seemed to be alluding to Norway's decision to pull its support for a Palestinian women's organization Dalal Moghrabi, named for the leader of a group of women terrorists responsible for an attack in which 38 Israelis were killed in 1978.