The Knesset passed a controversial law Monday that increases the regulation of many Israeli human-rights organizations.
The law approved by a vote of 57 to 48 targets groups that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments or political organizations. In practice, the law will affect liberal groups almost exclusively, because hawkish groups in Israel largely rely on donations from wealthy individuals, which are exempt.
The law requires organizations to state that they rely on foreign funding in all communication with public officials and on TV, newspapers, billboards and online. Representatives of these groups must also declare that they depend on foreign contributions to the heads of parliamentary committees when participating in meetings. Failure to comply will result in fines.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly supported the legislation, saying there is nothing anti-democratic about requiring transparency so that the public is aware of the role of foreign governments in funding these groups.
Opponents of the law argued that the Netanyahu government was trying to target liberal human rights organizations that are critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Lawmaker Robert Ilatov of the Yisrael Beitenu party said he co-sponsored the law because “intervention in Israel’s internal affairs is not acceptable.”
Previous versions of the bill would have labeled the groups as foreign agents and allowed Israel to tax donations received from foreign governments. One particularly contentious proposal that was later dropped would have required representatives of these groups to wear identification tags while they were in Israel’s Knesset (parliament).
During a debate late Monday that lasted several hours, Israeli opposition lawmakers heaped criticism on the legislation, even though it had been toned down.
Opposition lawmaker Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party said, “We will pay for this damage for many generations.”
Other opposition lawmakers compared the measure to authoritarian policies in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The so-called NGO law was approved, despite strong criticism from abroad.
German lawmaker Volker Beck, chairman of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, wrote on social media Monday that the law would “tarnish the reputation” of Israel.
Israeli media has reported that nearly all of the Israeli groups that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments are human rights organizations identified with the left.
The left-wing Peace Now announced it will challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.
“While the law will delegitimize left-wing organizations, pro-settler NGOs who receive millions of dollars in foreign donations without any transparency will remain unaffected,” the group said in a statement.