Knesset Speaker: Likud Does Not Stand Up for Free Speech in Israel

Likud leader chastises own party for promoting bills that would limit foreign funding of human rights NGOs, leaving Likud leaders 'isolated at home.'

Knesset Speaker and Likud stalwart Reuven Rivlin criticized the direction his party is heading on Sunday, in the wake of the preliminary approval of two bills that would limit foreign funding for Israeli human rights organizations.

“The heads of the Likud are isolated at home,” stated Rivlin at a Likud Party ceremony at the party’s headquarters in central Tel Aviv. “When a member of Likud openly defends freedom of expression, he is seen as detached from reality,” said Rivlin, hinting at fellow party members Dan Meridor and Benny Begin who openly opposed the proposals.

rivlin - Emil Salman - November 29 2010
Emil Salman

Rivlin's criticism comes in the wake of the approval of a bill by Ministerial Committee for Legislation, sponsored by two members of the Likud party, and supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Sunday that would cap foreign governments' contributions to "political" non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, is throwing its weight behind the second initiative brought forth by party MK Fania Kirshenbaum, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments' donations to NGOs ineligible for state funding.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he wants to amend a number of clauses in each bill, which are likely to include raising the proposed cap for financial contributions and distinguishing between organization that specify in human rights from those viewed as having a purely political agenda.

Members of the coalition will be asked to vote on both bills when they are brought to the Knesset for a preliminary reading in the coming days.