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Israel passes controversial 'transparency bill' into law

Critics say the law targets leftist NGOs seeking government reform
Breaking the Silence, an NGO that documents abuses by veterans, is thought to be a target of funding bill (AFP)

Israel passed a controversial bill into law on Monday that requires NGOs to submit detailed accounts of foreign donations if over half their funding comes from overseas.

Critics of the “transparency bill,” coined by the far-right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, say the law mostly targets leftist organisations that take a strong stance against Netanyahu’s policies.

The bill would classify such organisations as “implants,” and forbid them from contacting the army or government bodies without special permission.

Shaked, who belongs to the right-wing Jewish Home party, sponsored the bill.

Parliamentarian Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US and now a member of the centrist Kulanu party, said in December he would oppose the bill because it will not apply equally to right-wing groups, which get most of their funding from private donors.

“The non-profits bill … could harm Israel’s foreign relations and image,” Oren was quoted as saying in Haaretz on Sunday.

“I have no doubt that left-wing non-profits such as Breaking the Silence are working to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and it is our duty as lawmakers to expose their sources of funding to the public.

“But such one-sided exposure, which ignores the funding sources of extreme-right non-profits, might play exactly into the hands of those elements that are trying to boycott us,” Oren said.

In a highly contentious parliament debate, the bill was passed 57-48.

"The NGO law ... is indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society," opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the centre-left Zionist Union party told reporters hours before the vote.

Critics also point out that overseas money going to groups that support settlements on occupied land are not included in the law.

"It is a law whose only aim is to silence and mark those who dare to voice criticism of the government or against settlements," Israel's Peace Now group said in a statement.

Prior to the vote, lawmakers got rid of a stipulation requiring lobbyists affected by the bill to wear special nametags while visiting the legislature.

Netanyahu, defended the bill, saying it was "democratic and necessary".

Around 15,000 NGOs actively operate in Israel. According to a Jerusalem Post report, 70 percent of these NGOs work to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and receive funds from EU member states.

 
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.