The Knesset should never have seriously considered — much less passed — the NGO “transparency” bill which passed today. The bill undermines Israel’s democratic heritage and risks creating a damaging chilling effect on the freedom of expression.
From the outset, this legislation was one of a series of bills — backed up by extra-parliamentary campaigns of incitement and intimidation — that seek to harass and/or stigmatize progressive critics of the current government’s policies. The message coming out of the Knesset today is that if you oppose the occupation, you’d better not speak up because there will be a price to pay. And that chilling message is being heard by many Israelis, not only those affiliated with the handful of organizations regulated by this law.
This law is not about transparency; it’s about intimidation. It targets Israeli NGOs that receive funding from foreign governments, and those are overwhelmingly organizations with progressive worldviews. Enormous amounts of funding coming to ultranationalist and settler organizations from abroad by private donors are not impacted by this legislation. Not surprisingly, the cabinet ignored requests from Knesset members to expand this legislation to apply to those funds as well. Moreover, a recent report by Peace Now revealed that NGOs affiliated with the political right exploit loopholes in existing law to obscure the sources of their funding. The report showed that 94% of the funding to 9 organizations was hidden from the public. If the Israeli government was genuinely interested in greater transparency for NGOs it would have sought to close those loopholes. Sadly, they have yet to take up the issue.
It bears mention that the efforts of democracy-minded Israelis and some of Israel’s best allies around the world to speak up against this legislation had an impact. The bill that passed the Knesset today was better than the text that was initially introduced. Some of the bill’s most outrageous proposals were rejected. Those of us committed to a vision of Israel as a democracy that offers complete equality to all of its citizens — as envisioned in the Declaration of Independence — must redouble our efforts. This government is considering additional moves to stifle critics of their policies. Not only are Israelis’ freedom of expression on the line, so is Israel’s standing as a liberal democracy.