Israel's Attorney General: Probing Leftist NGOs Infringes on Human Rights

The Knesset plenum is expected to vote next Monday on setting up two parliamentary panels of inquiry to probe left-wing organizations.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned on Sunday that establishing parliamentary panels of inquiry to probe left-wing organizations could violate fundamental human rights.

In the state's response to a petition challenging the establishment of such panels, he wrote: "It is impossible to ignore the chilling effect of such investigative panels, should they be established, on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of association."

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Weinstein had been asked by the petitioners to move to block the establishment of such panels.

Despite this warning, the state asked the High Court of Justice to reject the petition on the grounds that that the attorney general does not have the authority to address such matters and and because a final Knesset vote on the establishment of the panels has has yet to be taken.

The Knesset plenum is expected to vote next Monday on setting up two parliamentary panels of inquiry to probe left-wing organizations. K Yariv Levin (Likud ), chairman of the Knesset House Committee, yesterday submitted a formal request to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to schedule the vote. Rivlin said that he had no intention of delaying the vote. The panels are meant to probe the funding sources of organizations that "carry out the delegitimization of the IDF," as well as the acquisition of land in Israel by foreign countries.

Knesset split down the middle

A survey by Haaretz indicates that the Knesset is split evenly. A slim majority of 61 lawmakers favors setting up the inquiry panels, whereas 59 are opposed.

The opponents include all 28 members of Kadima, eight members of Labor, five members of Ehud Barak's newly established Atzmaut party, four members of Hadash, four members of Ra'am-Ta'al, three members of Meretz and three members of Balad. Four members of the ruling Likud party - Rivlin, Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan - have also said they will vote against the panels.

Knesset insiders predict that the final outcome will rest on the ability of both sides to mobilize their supporters to show up to cast their vote next Monday.

Earlier this month, the House Committee authorized the formation of two parliamentary panels of inquiry to probe the left-wing organizations.

This preliminary authorization was obtained through a 10-7 vote.

Lawmakers Orit Zuaretz and Shlomo Molla (Kadima ) have asked Rivlin to put an end to all further discussion of the matter in light of the formal opinion issued by the Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, which stated: "For the first time, the proposed panels address clearly ideological issues and seek to deal with entities identified only with one side of the political map, which are currently in the opposition."

In the state's response issued on Sunday, the attorney general also said: "In contrast to panels set up in the past, these panels seek to deal with what is interpreted as narrowing and limiting fundamental rights of the democratic system of government, including the fundamental right to freedom of expression, freedom of protest and the freedom to organize politically, rights that are at the very heart of a democratic system of government."