Netanyahu Government's Latest Instance of 'Shooting the Messenger'

Netanyahu's new draft bill wants not just to obligate human rights NGOs to report donations from 'foreign state entities,' but to impose a sweeping prohibition on them

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, May 29, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

If in the past Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu served as a brake on some of the anti-democratic legislation from his friends in the party and the coalition, the reins have been loosened recently and now he is placing himself at the forefront of such legislation. This can be seen in the way the prime minister, who in the past acted to “soften” the NGO law, now wants to advance his own, harsher version of this legislation, which would completely prohibit NGOs from receiving contributions from foreign states.

The law today requires contributions from “foreign state entities,” to be declared on websites, publications and correspondence. In its current wording, the law is superfluous because full financial disclosure and transparency was required of NGOs even before the law was passed. But the new draft bill wants not just to obligate NGOs to report such donations, but to impose a sweeping prohibition on them. In so doing it significantly endangers the survival and activities of the many civil society organizations that work for human rights in Israel and the occupied territories.

The claim that the law is justified because foreign countries should not interfere with Israel’s internal affairs must be utterly rejected. Human rights are not a country’s internal affair alone. Moreover, when the issues involve the occupied territories, these are outside of Israel’s recognized borders, so they are all the more not an “internal matter.”

This, then, is another attempt to hurt civil society and critical discourse in Israel. It is another in the series of steps the government has taken for the purpose of “shooting the messenger”: Harming human rights groups is intended to allow the government to deepen and widen its attacks on those rights, especially of Palestinians, by silencing those who are documenting, reporting and criticizing those attacks.

This legislative initiative must be seen in the broader context of an assault on the independence of the media, the justice system, the world of art and culture, and academia. It must be hoped that it will not pass; however, merely introducing it contributes to an ever-growing McCarthyism.

If the bill is passed, the Supreme Court should strike it down as unconstitutional. Its framers are obviously aware of this possibility, and may have even taken it into account. Thus they “profit” from it twice: by advancing an anti-democratic law and appearing strong versus “the left” and human rights groups, and afterward by attacking the Supreme Court if it strikes the law down, thereby appearing to be defenders of “democracy” and the “will of the people” from the “tyranny of the court.” In any event, now, at this early stage of legislation, is the time to shelve Netanyahu’s bill.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.