Israel ministers endorse bill to spotlight foreign-funded NGOs

Approval of the draft by the ministerial committee on legislation means that it now goes to parliament

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Israeli ministers on Sunday endorsed contentious draft legislation to toughen rules on rights groups which receive funds from abroad, the justice minister said, in a move left-wing NGOs have called a witch-hunt.

Approval of the draft by the ministerial committee on legislation means that it now goes to parliament as a government bill, where it must pass three readings to become law.

If the initiative is successful, Israeli non-governmental organizations which get at least half of their funding from “foreign state entities” will be obliged to identify donors on their financial statements and in official statements to Israeli public bodies.

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

The bill’s sponsor, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, has alleged that “blatant interference in internal Israeli affairs by foreign governments is unprecedented and widespread.”

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

She is a member of the far-right Jewish Home party, which has been at the forefront of attacks on such groups.

“We are asking of states that wish to intervene in Israel’s internal affairs to do so publicly via diplomacy,” Shaked said in a statement on Sunday.

Party leader Naftali Bennett, also education minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, has banned Breaking the Silence from addressing high-school students, which it had done for many years.

The group is made up of Israeli military veterans who publicize abuses they say they have seen or taken part in during their military service in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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

Right-wing NGOs tend instead to be funded by private individuals, also often outside Israel, and so are not subject to the restrictions.

“This is a disturbing milestone in right-wing efforts to delegitimize and silence these organizations,” the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz wrote in an editorial on Sunday.

“Shaked’s bill represents a severe blow to freedom of expression and activity of organizations working in various fields who protect Israel’s moral image.”

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