Union for Reform Judaism Blasts Israeli NGO Transparency Bill

Rabbi Rick Jacobs says bill 'catalyzes a dangerous chilling effect on free speech'; the union is the third major centrist U.S. Jewish group to oppose the bill.

Courtesy URJ

Union for Reform Judaism head Rabbi Rick Jacobs condemned Israel's proposed NGO transparency bill on Tuesday, saying that "attempts to silence one side of the debate weaken Israel’s democracy."

The bill would require Israeli NGOs that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to be labeled as such when in the Knesset.

In a statement, Jacobs said that "a vast majority of the organizations that this law would cover are affiliated with Israel’s political left, catalyzing a dangerous chilling effect on free speech," adding that "the stipulation that representatives of these organizations would have to wear special identification badges is especially odious."

The announcement brings to three the major centrist U.S. Jewish groups opposing the bill. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee also oppose the law.

"The strength of Israeli society internally, as well as its international position, has been its bedrock commitment to democracy and free expression,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt in a press release. “There is no doubt that many Israelis today feel beleaguered, both by the security situation and the campaign to undermine the Jewish state’s legitimacy. However, efforts to counter such campaigns through the tarring of NGOs and those holding certain political perspectives, threaten to erode Israel’s very democratic character, and could significantly harm Israel’s international legitimacy."

United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro expressed U.S. concerns over potential adverse effects of the bill, spearheaded by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, in a meeting he held with her Sunday.

A few hours after Shapiro issued a rare statement about the meeting, Shaked issued her own statement demanding that the U.S. and EU governments not intervene in internal Israeli legislation.

Shaked’s bill passed through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation at the end of last month and is now being debated in the Knesset. The meeting between Shapiro and Shaked followed other meetings the ambassador has had in recent weeks with Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office officials, in which he informed them that the United States is dissatisfied with this bill. The ambassadors of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and the European Union have conveyed similar messages that reached Shaked and the PMO.