|Public Outcry as Israelis Mobilize to Defend Democracy|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
There is good news for the human and civil rights community in Israel, at least for now. After Israel’s Attorney General wrote a letter describing the legislation as unconstitutional, Prime Minster Netanyahu decided not to begin Cabinet discussion on the newest version of the bill that would defund progressive NGOs, and, according to YNET News, has not yet formulated his position on this revised version.
The NIF family will still remain on high alert about the legislation designed to put Israel’s human rights community out of business. The Akunis-Kirshenbaum proposal would prohibit or tax funding from other democratic governments to Israeli NGOs that are independent of the Israeli government’s funding and support – precisely the organizations that Israel needs most to remain a flourishing democracy.
This version of the bill divides nonprofit organizations into three categories:
Attorney General Weinstein has already announced that the bill is, in our terms, unconstitutional and that he will not defend it in the Knesset or before the High Court.
Nevertheless, with both the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu ministers supporting the legislation, it may still come to the Knesset at some point. Other pending bills would radically increase the exposure of journalists to lawsuits for libel -- another attempt to penalize or curtail criticism of the government and its officials --and politicize the appointment of judges to Israel’s High Court.
But international pressure on anti-democratic legislation is building, and some legislation has been shelved. In addition to the postponement of the NGO legislation, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation unanimously rejected a bill to limit the ability of human rights organizations to petition the Supreme Court, although the Prime Minister says he is still determined to reduce the power of the judiciary.
Last Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her concern about the anti-NGO legislation in a closed meeting,which attracted much attention and controversy in Israel. European ministers and diplomats have also been openly critical of the wave of anti-democratic initiatives. NIF’s own members in the US, UK, Canada and Australia have emailed Prime Minister Netanyahu to protest. American media pundits and leaders of American Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the ADL, have voiced their concerns and reservations.
And most important, in response to the relentless attacks on democracy, there is a growing public outcry by ordinary Israelis. Thousands of citizens have begun to take part in a series of protest initiatives in support of Israeli democracy.
NIF board member Talia Sasson told the crowd at a recent rally, "The government is doing this simply because it can. They have the majority to seize control of the country and change its substance. This is not the change of political parties in power that characterizes democracy but the sort of change that makes anybody who knows history tremble with fear. We must not stay silent and let this change happen. We the Jewish people, who have learned one or two things about the denial of rights and citizenship, must not remain silent."
Below is the video clip of the demonstration and Talia Sasson's full speech.
In response to the barrage of satirical web initiatives criticizing the government, the popular Hebrew-language news website "Walla" ran an article entitled "Not staying silent – creative responses on the web to the wave of recent Knesset bills." Many of the tactics pioneered by NIF’s "Don't Remain Silent” campaign, such as protesters gagged with tape around their mouths, have been used by demonstrators over the past week to protest a new bill tightening libel laws.
A rapidly growing number of people are “liking” NIF's "Don't Remain Silent" facebook page, as public awareness of the government's determination to stymie democracy gains momentum. At the same time, NIF, SHATIL and Israel's human rights organization are continuing their intensive communications and lobbying efforts to thwart the ongoing attacks on Israeli democracy.