U.S. concerned over Israeli bill on foreign-backed NGOs

If the bill is passed it will require Israeli NGOs which get at least half of their funds from foreign governments to identify donors

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The U.S. ambassador to Israel expressed concern Monday over a draft bill that would toughen rules on foreign-backed NGOs, which rights groups say is aimed at stifling government criticism.

If the bill is passed it will require Israeli NGOs which get at least half of their funds from foreign governments to identify donors on their financial statements and in official statements to public bodies.

It would also compel staff from such non-governmental organizations to wear special identity tags when appearing in front of parliamentary committees, as is currently the case with paid lobbyists.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, in a statement after meeting the bill’s chief sponsor Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said he had “noted the U.S. government’s concerns” over the legislation.

In a separate statement, the embassy said the bill could have a “chilling effect” on Israeli NGOs and rejected comparisons to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Israeli officials have suggested the law is similar to the U.S. law known as FARA.

“The draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities. That is not how FARA works,” the statement said.

“As a result, (FARA) does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”

Shaked, a member of the far-right Jewish Home party, has repeatedly accused foreign-backed NGOs of being “blatant interference in internal Israeli affairs by foreign governments.”

She has cited a U.N. inquiry into the 2014 summer war in Gaza, which concluded that both Israel and Palestinian militants may have been guilty of war crimes. She said it relied on evidence from foreign-backed Israeli NGOs B’Tselem, Adalah and Breaking the Silence.

Several leftwing Israeli NGOs receive large percentages of their funding from abroad, including from European governments.

Rightwing NGOs tend to be funded by private individuals, also often outside Israel, and so would not be subject to the restrictions.

Leftwing NGOs say the bill singles them out, with settlement watchdog Peace Now calling it “a hate crime against democracy.”

The bill has “nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with the de legitimation of organizations criticizing the government’s policies,” the watchdog has said.

The justice ministry was not immediately available for comment.

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