At a time when the Israeli government should be engaged in thoughtful examination of the latest wave of violence, the stalemate with the Palestinians and other crucial issues, the Justice Minister and other leaders of the governing coalition are focusing elsewhere.
Two new bills specifically designed to harass or punish opponents of Israeli government policy are in the legislative process. One, the “Prevention of Entry Law,” introduced by MK Yinon Magal of the settler Jewish Home party, passed its preliminary reading today and would seek to ban entry to foreigners who so much as call for a boycott of settlement products and services. Theoretically, if this law is passed, any non-Israeli who has indicated that boycotting settlement products is an acceptable tactic could be barred from visiting or residency in Israel, even if s/he could qualify as an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return.
The other bill, floated by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked herself, would force NGOs receiving funding from foreign governments to proclaim that fact ceaselessly, including by wearing special badges in the Knesset and labeling of all public materials. The fact that every progressive NGO already reveals its funding sources publicly and to the official registrar doesn’t seem to matter. Nor, of course, does the fact that right-wing settler NGOs that are opaque about their donors, many of whom are overseas billionaires and many of whose activities do not bear close inspection, will completely escape scrutiny and transparency.
These bills, if passed, will continue to chip away at Israeli democracy. They are designed to harass and punish those who oppose the settler and ultranationalist agenda, and the effect is to put Israel into the company of Russia, Iran, China, Egypt and other authoritarian countries that defund and repress civil rights NGOs.
At a time when Israel’s relationship with the EU is already at risk, these bills will further damage that relationship and Israel’s international standing. They are also, in the most basic sense, besides the point. Only addressing the core issues threatening Israel’s survival and democracy, especially the occupation and the growth of ultranationalist and religious extremism, will advance Israel’s interests and preserve its democracy and future.