Israeli parliament approves law targeting pro-Palestinian human rights groups

Israeli parliament approves law targeting pro-Palestinian human rights groups
Israel has introduced a new law forcing NGOs to openly declare donations from foreign states, which critics say unfairly target leftist and pro-Palestinian rights groups who receive European funding.
3 min read
12 July, 2016
Left-wing Israeli NGOs will suffer most from the new bill [AFP]

Israel has approved a new controversial law forcing NGOs that receive most of their funding from foreign state entities to openly declare it.

The law is seen as targeting leftist groups that campaign for Palestinian rights, was passed in a 57-48 vote in the Israeli parliament on Tuesday morning.

The law will compel NGOs to report their main source of income to a government registrar, publish it on their website, and state it in open reports.

"The law wishes to deal with the phenomenon of NGOs which represent foreign interests of foreign states, while acting under the cover of local organisations seeking to serve the interests of the Israeli public," its introduction read.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who head's Israel's "most right-wing government in its history" - said the law's goal was "to prevent an absurd situation, in which foreign states meddle in Israel's internal affairs by funding NGOs, without the Israeli public being aware of it".

"Unlike the left's claims, the law's approval will increase transparency, contribute to creating a discourse that reflects the Israeli public opinion, and will strengthen democracy," he wrote on his Facebook page following the final vote. 

The approved version of the law has been watered down from an initial insistence by right-wing lawmakers that workers from NGOs receiving  foreign donations should be forced to wear ID tags declaring their funding sources when speaking at a parliament committees.

Israeli Labour leader Isaac Herzog has criticised the law saying it represents "the buds of fascism blooming in Israel".

Head of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh said the law sought to "intimidate and wipe away the few organisations that act and fight in the public sphere for equality to the Arab public".

The law does not specifically refer to leftist organisations, but will be applicable to some 25 NGOs. Some of those working for Paletinian rights rely on donatations from European governments.

Peace Now, a prominent anti-settlement watchdog NGO, called the law "a blatant violation of freedom of expression".

"[It is] tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organisations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government's policies," the group said in a statement.

Peace Now vowed to challenge the law in court, and will continue to monitor Israel's continued expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Right-wing NGOs - such as those supporting Israel's occupation of the West Bank - will be unaffected by the bill as they usually rely on private donations.

Human Rights Watch said: "If the Israeli government were truly concerned about transparency, it would require all NGOs to actively alert the public to their sources of funding, not just those that criticise the government's policies."