Proposed Knesset Bill Targets Free Speech . . . Again

19 December 2013

NIF has come out in opposition to the proposed ‘NGO Bill’, according to which Israeli NGOs would be taxed at different rates based on the content of their speech.

Groups that call for a boycott of Israel or divestment from Israel, for sanctions against the state or its citizens, or for IDF soldiers to be tried in international tribunals, will be required to pay taxes at the rate of 45 percent of any contribution made by a foreign entity.

Attempts to pass similar legislation failed in the last Knesset. The creators of the latest incarnation of the bill are MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), who claim that their intent is “to restrict the involvement of foreign political entities in democracy in Israel.” A clause regarding sanctions against groups working against “the Jewish-democratic identity of the state” has already been dropped.

The proposed legislation does not directly threaten NIF or our grantees – according to our strict funding guidelines, NIF does not support organizations that have global BDS programs. NIF also opposes the prosecution of Israeli soldiers in international tribunals.

Nevertheless, NIF has issued a statement against the anti-democratic nature of the bill. Additionally, NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch wrote an op-ed in Haaretz: “The real goal [of the bill] is to eventually define Israel’s Jewish-and-democratic formulation in a way that can silence opposition and impose impossible strictures on freedom of speech and minority rights, and it is this objective to which attention must be paid.”

In a Hebrew-language op-ed, NIF’s Executive Director in Israel, Rachel Liel, called the proposed legislation “the new McCarthyism.”

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the bill by a vote of eight ministers to four, despite Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein saying that he would be unable to defend the law in the High Court of Justice if a petition is submitted against it. He said that raising the tax rate under such circumstances was “a kind of punishment, the purpose of which is to create a ‘cooling effect’ and thwart contributions to such groups, and thus impair free debate, one of the key anchors of democracy in Israel.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who chairs the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, has already announced her opposition to the bill and declared that she will appeal the decision to approve it.