The contentious “Transparency Bill,” forcing NGOs to declare foreign funding, won approval by the government’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday afternoon, despite flak from the European Union and fierce protests from the Israeli left.
The bill, which would require NGOs receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments to declare it, is aimed at exposing the efforts of those governments to influence domestic Israeli affairs.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), who backed the bill, welcomed its passage in committee as a way of safeguarding the sovereignty of the state of Israel.
The European Union reacted to the news with a stern warning that “Israel should be very careful about reigning in its prosperous democratic society with laws that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.”
Shaked fired back: “The EU Ambassador (Lars Faaborg-Andersen) expressed his opposition today, and said that in his view the law will harm democracy, and requested that Israel ‘prevents acts which harm freedom of expression and assembly,'” Shaked said. “I want to calm the Ambassador and assure him that the proposed law does not harm freedom of expression at all.”
“Apart from that, I actually believe that the interference of foreign states in the… policies of another state are, in fact, the true danger to democracy,” she asserted.
“It cannot be that the European Union donates to NGOs who work in the name of the state of Israel, when in practice they are being used as a tool in the hands of foreign states to implement their policies,” Shaked declared.
The minister also noted that the law would not interfere with the activities of nongovernmental organizations, but would merely allow Israeli citizens to be informed of the sources of their funding. Shaked also pointed out the hypocrisy of the EU, which has only recently established its policy of labeling goods from over the Green Line, which it claims is merely intended to provide information to consumers, and not for any political purpose. But when Israel seeks to provide information to its citizens, they say it’s undemocratic.
The Israeli opposition continued its battle against the proposed legislation. Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog called the decision a “bullet between the eyes of Israel’s image in the world.” He said it was a black day for Israel when it’s compared with totalitarian regimes.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said on Sunday that the Transparency Bill is actually designed to muzzle the left by compelling NGOs to identify their funding sources.
Former justice minister Tzipi Livni submitted her own NGOs bill, which would require declaration of both state and private foreign donors.
“I have no problem with transparency in NGOs,” Livni said. “But it must apply to everyone. Even to those who receive funds from private unknown donors. I want to also know who are the foreigners who fund ‘Im Tirtzu,'” she said, referring to an outspoken right-wing group.
Shaked said that the new law would apply equally to both right and left-wing organizations.
The bill will now be sent to the Knesset for debate and voting.