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Israeli parliament to vote on bill seen as targeting left-wing NGOs

The EU, whose members provide much of the foreign funding for NGOs critical of government, said the bill is 'reminiscent of totalitarian regimes'
Breaking the Silence, an NGO that documents abuses by veterans, is thought to be a target of funding bill (AFP)

A controversial bill aiming to clamp down on foreign funding of NGOs in Israel came a step closer to becoming law on Sunday.

Known popularly as the “implants” law, the bill would mean that any organisations receiving more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments would be forced to note this on official publicity.

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

On Sunday, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, meaning it can now be voted on by the country’s parliament.

The bill is sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who belongs to the right-wing Jewish Home party.

It is expected to gain support from each faction of Israel’s ruling coalition when it is voted on in parliament, as Jewish Home made their bill’s successful passage into law a condition of joining the coalition after this year’s hotly-contested general election.

Opponents of the bill, known officially as the Transparency Law, complain that in practice it will target left-wing organisations almost exclusively.

Parliamentarian Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US and now a member of the centrist Kulanu party, said 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.

Breaking the Silence is an NGO that works with former Israeli soldiers to document abuses against Palestinians. It has come under attack within Israel over recent weeks, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett last week banning the group from visiting any schools in Israel.

Avner Gvaryahu, a member of Breaking the Silence and a former paratrooper in the elite special forces of the Israeli army, wrote this month that the bill would unfairly target the group and other NGOs opposed to "indefinite occupation of Palestinians".

"This current Israeli administration is obsessed about what people around the world are saying about Israel but are actively trying to hide what is going on in Israel."

Breaking the Silence released a landmark new report in May detailing what it called “grave violations” committed by Israeli forces during last summer’s devastating assault on the Gaza Strip.

Promoting the bill this week, Shaked sought to remind lawmakers that the UN’s damning report into war crimes committed during the assault was “based on testimony by Israeli non-governmental organisations such as ... Breaking the Silence”.

Much of the foreign funding for such left-wing NGOs working in Israel comes from European governments, and the EU spoke out strongly against the bill this week.

“Israel should be very careful about reigning in its prosperous democratic society with laws that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes,” an EU official was quoted as saying on Sunday by Israeli news site Ynet News.

Shaked has sought to defend the bill, saying it is “meant to limit the information that gets to foreign countries”.

“I actually believe the meddling of foreign countries in the regime and policies of another country is the real danger to democracy,” she told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"It cannot be that the EU contributes to NGOs acting on behalf of the State of Israel when in fact they are being used as a tool by foreign countries to implement their own policies.”