The New NGO Bill – No Democratic Parallel05 December 2011
Hard-line Knesset members’ efforts to make life difficult for Israeli NGOs and civil society groups are nothing new.
Last year, one of the major attacks came in the form of a bill, sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin, that would have stripped organizations receiving any foreign government money whatsoever of their tax-free status, and required that such organizations register as foreign agents.
This year, MKs Fania Kirschenbaum and Ofir Akunis updated Elkin’s approach a bit: their proposed legislation (which was revised and consolidated into a single bill on November 30) would place NGOs into three separate classes, with different rules for each: most NGOs would be hit with a crippling 45% tax on any foreign government funding they received; others – those NGOs whose actions and goals the government deemed particularly dangerous – would be barred from receiving any foreign government donations at all; finally, overtly non-political groups, such as Magen David Adom, and organizations sponsored by the Israeli government, would be unaffected. Like the Elkin bill, the Kirshenbaum-Akunis bill targets only foreign government money – which accounts for a big chunk of the funding of many NGOs and civil society groups; private foreign donations – the lifeblood of many right wing organizations – are completely ignored. In other words, while the tactics have changed (slightly) in the past year, the goal remains the same: to stigmatize and starve the large sector of Israeli organizations that depend on foreign government funding to operate.
So it should come as no surprise that this latest round of attacks is justified in exactly the same way as its earlier counterpart: this isn’t anti-democratic, the United States does it too. Specifically, in a number of recent interviews, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has endorsed the legislation, claiming that it is modeled after, or even a “direct translation” of, the United States’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Fortunately for the United States, MK Lieberman is wrong.
Neither the language of the Kirshenbaum-Akunis bill (either as originally introduced, or as updated), nor its purpose and effect, resemble FARA in any way. FARA is a narrowly tailored statute, aimed at ensuring transparency among those people and institutions whose work is explicitly directed or controlled by a foreign entity (e.g. lobbyists for foreign governments). Simply taking foreign donations would not be nearly enough to trigger FARA.
Moreover, FARA only requires that foreign agents register as such with the Department of Justice, and make certain ongoing disclosures thereafter; their tax status, and who they may take money from under what circumstances all remain unchanged.
The Kirshenbaum-Akunis bill, on the other hand, is unmistakably punitive, creating a triple-standard that targets specific political actors, either taxing their foreign state donations at an arbitrary and exorbitant rate or barring them outright. Quite simply, the comparison to FARA, or to any other American law for that matter, is totally misplaced.
MKs Kirshenbaum, Akunis and Lieberman, of course, have every right to push for any legislation that they believe in. But false comparisons to US law only obscure the bills’ real implications. Trying to make the case that these bills do not erode democracy is a tough sell.
Jesse Levine is a human rights lawyer based in New York.
The News Out of Israel09 July 2014
None of us know how extensive this military confrontation will be, but I do know that we stand ready to assist the most vulnerable Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, who are living under threat of rocket fire.
The Peace of Jerusalem07 November 2014
It’s been another difficult week in Jerusalem. Tension has building over the past months. Indeed, it’s been building since before the terrible events of this past summer.
The Politics of Theater in Washington, DC14 April 2014
Two years ago, the New Israel Fund began a partnership with Theater J, the Washington, DC, Jewish theater that, according to its website, produces “thought-provoking, publicly engaged, personal, passionate and entertaining plays and musicals that celebrate the distinctive urban voice and social vision that are part of the Jewish cultural legacy.”
The Race Against Racism20 March 2014
Racism in Israel today is a pernicious and dangerous problem. The good news is that Israelis, just like Americans, are standing up to do something about it.
The Race of Victimhood and Incitement08 March 2013
"The Race of Victimhood and Incitement"
Thoughts for International Women’s Day from MK Merav Michaeli
8 March 2013
In honor of International Women’s Day, here is the inaugural speech of Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli (Labor) subtitled in English. NIF is a non-partisan organization with no formal connection to Ms. Michaeli, but we believe the themes of her speech should resonate today – for women, for minorities, but most important, for the future of Israel as a shared and responsible society.
The Rat Race And The March Of Folly29 July 2011
The wave of protests that are splashing over Israel represent, first and foremost, the middle class' recognition – at long last – that it is powerless to hold its own in the mad competition that has been forced upon it: military service involving the loss of three years of income, college studies, the purchase of a decent condominium, the high cost of raising children, and the high cost of basic foods. The mad competition, in turn, is the product of the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few – the top ten percent of income earners, and among them, the top one percent and the top .1%. The increasing wealth at the top enables a small minority to determine new standards in every area of life: a one-family dwelling with a yard or a condo in a prestigious new city tower in Tel Aviv; kindergartens that purport to increase children's IQ, elementary schools for the gifted, arts and sciences high schools, private colleges, and luxury consumer goods.
Young middle-class people, aware of the new standards, realize that this is a race they cannot win, a race that turns them into rats caught in a maze. In the 1960s, American students called it the rat race.
For its part, the government of Israel washes its hands in the ideology of the free market and is willing, at most, to admit that there are a few "market failures." But ideology is a matter of geography, and in our case, the free market ideology stops at the border between Israel and the West Bank. On the other side of the Green Line, the government – like all recent governments of Israel – continues to take the initiative and lead the largest national civilian project undertaken in Israel since the 1967 war – the settlements. This ongoing undertaking is a march of folly not only because it costs a huge amount of money: it also guarantees the continuation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is an undertaking involving huge expenditures to which there appears to be no end. Perhaps the construction of homes need not be taken into account, as persons living in the settlements would still have needed homes had they chosen to remain within the Green Line. However, a home in a settlement is less expensive for the settler but very expensive for every other Israeli: settlements involve expensive infrastructures, expensive by-pass roads, a separation wall, armored transportation, generous public services, income tax and municipal tax breaks, development subsidies and housing purchase assistance.
The real costs are higher still: special military installations built to protect the settlements and their access roads, military activity in which all units of the infantry need to take part, and special budgetary outlays in times of increased hostilities. Since the first Intifada, the defense budget has received additional allocations for "events in the territories" amounting to $13.5 billion.
Who pays? Tax-payers, and, among them, members of the middle class. The same people called upon to patrol and to scout and to fight – the middle class, which is the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces.
So what do we have here? We have a state of Israel with a split personality, a two-faced state. On the Israeli side of the Green Line, it says to the middle class: "It's not my job to correct the situation," while on the occupied side of the Green Line it says: "I'll do it! I'll do it! I'll initiate. I'll invest. I'll build. I'll take care of you." What we have is a highly pro-active state on the east side of the Green line and a free market state on west side of the Green Line. A democratic state with a free market here, and an occupier state with state socialism for settlers there.
The rat race and the march of folly. Has Israel reached the breaking point?
Shlomo Swirski is the Academic Research Director of the Adva Center, which provides policy analysis and public education on issues of economic inequality in Israel.
The Sweet Taste of Justice29 March 2012
I fell in love with Jerusalem when I came here last year as part of a year-long study for my rabbinical program in the US. Like many good love stories, it was unexpected and even fraught. After months of praying with Women of the Wall, visiting the West Bank, arguing in the supermarket, and feeling upset about how Israel didn’t match my vision of a Jewish State, I realized that it only hurt because I cared so much.