July 17, 2016
On Tuesday, The European Commission — the executive branch of the EU — slammed Israel over the passage of a new law targeting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) critical of its policies, particularly the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The law — dubbed the “transparency bill” — was passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, and will require NGOs receiving half or more of their funding from foreign entities to disclose information about their donations to the Israeli government via official reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supported the bill, claims the measure is “democratic and necessary” and that the goal is to prevent “the absurd situation in which foreign states interfere in Israel’s internal affairs by funding NGOs without the Israeli public being aware of it.”
But many see the law — which has been hotly contested since its proposal in November of 2015 — as a means to an end far more nefarious than simple transparency.
Earlier this year, for instance, 50 members of the E.U.’s European Parliament signed an open letter to the Israeli government criticizing the legislation as “inherently discriminatory.”
Now, a day after the Knesset’s vote on Monday, the European Commission has issued a statement backing the Parliament Members’ claim.
“The reporting requirements imposed by the new law go beyond the legitimate need for transparency,” writes the commission, “and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations.”
Indeed, the true intent of the law is plain to see.
Because NGOs critical of Israeli policies — such as the Israeli settler movement, the execution of war crimes in Gaza, and the Palestinian occupation itself — are funded largely by foreign bodies, the new law will saddle those organizations with burdensome regulation and, by extension, government intimidation.
NGOs supporting Israeli policies, by contrast, receive the vast majority of their funding from private donors in Israel, and as such will not be affected by the legislation.
Given these facts, it’s difficult to imagine this wasn’t the idea all along.
“The only thing transparent about this law is its true purpose: to silence the civic sphere and those advocating for the end to the occupation,” Daniel Sokatch, chief executive of the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, told the Washington Post.
This sentiment was echoed by Peace Now, another foreign-funded NGO in Israel.
“It’s true intention is to divert Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition,” the group said in a statement, adding that “It is a law whose only aim is to silence and mark those who dare to voice criticism of the government or against settlements.”
And in this case, that “mark” would have been quite literal. Language in earlier versions of the bill, which was later removed, would’ve required representatives of NGOs affected by the new rules to wear special nametags while in the Knesset and publicly declare their funding sources when speaking before parliament.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who sponsored the bill, tried to dismiss the discrimination angle while talking toReuters on Monday, insisting the legislation was a common sense approach toward openness.
“I expect countries (to) try to influence Israel in a diplomatic path and not by funding millions of dollars or euros to NGOs that usually try to promote their views,” she said.
Human Rights Watch, however, isn’t buying it.
“If the Israeli government were truly concerned about transparency,” the group said in a statement, “it would require all NGOs to actively alert the public to their sources of funding, not just those that criticize the government’s policies.”
But perhaps the most damning — and, ultimately, encapsulating — condemnation came from within the Knesset itself.
Speaking with reporters before the vote on Monday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog stated that:
“The NGO law…is indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society.”
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