Late last night, the Israeli Knesset approved in a preliminary vote a highly controversial bill, authored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, that targets progressive and human rights organizations in what they describe as another attempt to punish criticism of Israeli government policy. In order to become law, the Knesset must still vote two more times to approve the legislation.
Daniel Sokatch, New Israel Fund’s Chief Executive Officer, released the following statement:
“This bill sets Israel on a slippery slope away from the values of liberal democracy and towards the approaches authoritarian regimes employ to clamp down on civil society. No democracy worthy of its name targets only civil society organizations that disagree with the government. No true democracy targets organizations that receive foreign funding while allowing others that do not even reveal the names of their donors to escape scrutiny.
“We at the New Israel Fund, the largest private funder of Israel’s human rights community and a frequent target of ultranationalist attacks, are disappointed by the Knesset’s vote in favor of this bill. Unfortunately, this legislation is just the latest effort in a relentless campaign to actively weaken the foundations of Israeli civil society. Those who want to protect Israel’s future as a democratic state must speak out against this bill and, more importantly, join us in working to defend the ability of Israelis to express dissent. We strongly urge leading Jewish organizations, in the U.S. and worldwide, to join us in calling for Israel to stay true its founding values, to ‘ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.’”
“Despite our disappointment in the outcome of the Knesset vote, we have seen some progress. Supporters of this bill had to spend enormous political capital on a piece of legislation they once thought was a slam-dunk. Ordinary Israelis are hearing about the war against the human rights community and about the special privileges and dirty tactics of the settler lobby, and they are paying attention. We must send a message to Israel’s centrist politicians — especially those who were once part of the fight for greater equality — that there is an enormous constituency of Israel’s supporters that stands ready to work with them in support of greater equality and democracy.
“The campaign to harass and intimidate Israeli human rights organizations must end.”