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Fact Sheet: Anti-Democratic Legislation in Israel’s Winter Knesset Session

19 October 2017

On October 23rd the Knesset will open for its winter session after a nearly three-month recess. The session will bring a flurry of new legislation that the government intends to pursue – some of it very damaging to democracy. Each piece advances the Netanyahu government’s agenda to eliminate critics, dismantle democratic institutions, and create impunity for Netanyahu in the face of mounting corruption charges.


  • Knesset Commission of Inquiry to investigate left-wing NGOs
  • New legislative proposal to choke funding for NGOs critical of Israeli policies
  • A major blow to Israeli democracy: The Jews-only “Nation-State” Bill
  • Likud attempts to shield Netanyahu from a growing litany of damning scandals
  • Jewish Home bill would gut judicial review with a new proposed Basic Law on Legislation


Daniel Sokatch, CEO of New Israel Fund: “I can’t stress enough how damaging this legislative agenda will be to Israeli democracy. Facing corruption charges, Netanyahu and his government are all too willing to target Palestinian Israelis, progressive Israelis, and the courts. One thing is clear: Netanyahu is abusing his bully pulpit. He is sowing divisiveness in a desperate attempt to save his own skin. We will fight this authoritarian agenda every step of the way. NIF has always defended democracy when it was threatened. Our resources are needed now more than ever.”

Items to look for in the 2017 Winter Knesset Session:

  • Knesset Commission of Inquiry to investigate left-wing NGOs

    According to media reports, on Sunday, October 15th, Prime Minister Netanyahu and coalition whip David Bitan (Likud) proposed that the Knesset open a new parliamentary commission to investigate the funding of left-wing NGOs. The proposal was accepted unanimously at a regularly scheduled meeting of the heads of the political parties that comprise the governing coalition.In a Facebook post, Netanyahu referred to it as a “parliamentary commission of inquiry to examine foreign government funding of organizations that work against IDF soldiers.”

    The exact scope of the investigation is unclear. It has been described in the media as looking into “foreign governments’ involvement in funding political organizations and activities meant to hurt Israeli soldiers.” This committee is set up as a tool for the current government to turn public opinion against Israeli human rights and anti-occupation NGOs and their funders.

    Breaking the Silence was reportedly named during the discussion, and we believe this committee, if it is established, will be used to target Breaking the Silence because of their testimonies from former IDF soldiers that expose unjust policies.

    In January 2011, a similar proposal for a parliamentary commission of inquiry was proposed former MK Faina Kirschenbaum of Yisrael Beiteinu. At the time Netanyahu spoke out against the move and voted against the commission. “We don’t need a Knesset investigation,” he said at the time. After massive public and diplomatic pressure, the Knesset voted to remove Kirschenbaum’s proposal from its agenda.

    On Wednesday, the Knesset’s Legal Advisor determined that the Knesset cannot legally pursue this commission. “A parliamentary investigation of civil society organization on ideological grounds is a violation of basic principles of governance,” he wrote.

    These measures disguised as transparency issues are simple political persecution – since Breaking the Silence and other human rights organizations are already subject to strict transparency requirements under Israeli law. Pro-settler and ultra-right advocacy groups, however, are not transparent about their sources of funding.

    ACRI letter to Netanyahu on the proposed Commission of Inquiry – view

  • New Legislative Proposal to choke funding for NGOs critical of Israeli policies

    In June, Prime Minister Netanyahu tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) with putting together new legislation to further restrict progressive Israeli NGOs that receive foreign government funding. Like anti-NGO legislation passed last summer, this bill is part of the Netanyahu government’s escalating campaign to eliminate opposition voices and human rights defenders from Israeli society.Though text is not yet publicly available (we believe it has yet to be finalized), Levin’s proposed legislation reportedly would outlaw any NGO that promotes a boycott of any “area controlled by Israel” (coded language to refer to boycotts of settlements, which is part of an effort to erase the Green Line), or that “seeks to harm IDF soldiers,” or that seeks to try IDF soldiers in foreign courts.

    We believe this bill was written specifically to target Breaking the Silence.

    NIF statement after the 2016 NGO bill passed into law – view
    Breaking the Silence response to new proposed bill – view

  • A major blow to Israeli democracy: The Jews-only “Nation-State” Bill

    Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly called for a new Basic Law that would undermine Israel’s democratic character. Basic Laws serve effectively as Israel’s constitution and trump other laws passed by the Knesset.A special Knesset committee has been formed to review and refine this legislation. The bill currently been under discussion would deny equal rights to non-Jewish citizens of Israel, would interject Jewish religious law into court decisions, and would undo Israeli court precedents that barred discrimination along religious, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic lines.

    ACRI letter to Knesset Member Ohana – view (PDF)

  • Likud attempts to shield Netanyahu from a growing litany of damning scandals

    Likud MK David Amsalem (Likud) has prepared a bill to prohibit police from opening investigations against a sitting prime minister over fraud, bribery, or breach of trust crimes.The bill would not shut down the corruption probes already underway, but would prevent police from opening new investigations.

    In August, court filings by Israeli police revealed that Netanyahu is a suspect under police investigation for bribery, breach of trust, and fraud. Sarah Netanyahu, Israel’s first lady, is under investigation for misuse of funds.

  • Jewish Home bill would gut judicial review with a new proposed Basic Law on Legislation

    Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) has drafted legislation that would limit the ability of Israeli courts to review certain legislation and that would establish a mechanism for the Knesset to override any decision by the High Court.Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) opposes this legislation. The coalition agreement between the Likud and Kahlon’s party give him significant leverage to prevent this legislation from passing.

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