Israel bill seeks to make foreign-funded NGOs wear tags

Justice minister proposes legislation requiring foreign-funded Israeli NGOs to wear badges when visiting the Knesset.

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, is considering the latest version in a long series of controversial laws that critics say are aimed at silencing dissent [Ariel Schalit/AP]

Human rights groups and non-governmental organisations in Israel have blasted a new bill that imposes several requirements and restrictions on Israeli NGOs that receive international funding.  

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Proposed on Sunday by Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the ‘Transparency Bill’ will mandate NGOs who receive half or more of their funding from abroad to print labels on all of their official documents detailing which “foreign entities” finance them. 

It will also require NGOs to wear tags noting their organisation’s name and the involvement of foreign countries in their activities while attending Knesset sessions.

The legislation is the latest version in a series of proposed bills in recent years designed to impose severe restrictions on how NGOs can operate in the country.

Violating the law will result in a fine of 29,990 Israeli shekels ($7,752). 

Speaking in the Knesset on Sunday, Shaked said the bill will stop “the blatant intervention of foreign countries in the state of Israel’s affairs”. 

The justice minister cited the testimonies of human rights groups – including B’Tselem and the Adalah Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights – to the UN investigation that concluded Israeli forces had possibly committed war crimes during the 51-day war in the Gaza Strip last year. 

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The proposed legislation still has to be passed by the Knesset in order to go into effect.  

Previous versions of the bill aimed to tax NGOs to the tune of 25 to 45 percent of all international donations, while others also mandated that NGOs be labelled “foreign agents” on official documents. 

Shaked is a member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, which advocates the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

‘Unprecedented cynicism’

Several human rights groups have criticised the measures as an attack on left-wing organisations and an attempt to silence criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 

Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, a youth organisation for Palestinian citizens of Israel, said the bill “is only the most recent attempt to crack down on watchdogs” and groups that document Israel’s human rights violations. 

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Nashif said the bill will have a “doubly harmful impact” on groups that monitor discriminatory measures against the minority of Palestinians who carry Israeli citizenships, who constitute an estimated 1.7 million people. 

“The state has always harassed Arab institutions and Jewish non-Zionist ones,” Nashif told Al Jazeera.

“Any version of this bill will compound problems we have been facing for years.”

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that Shaked’s bill reaches “unprecedented heights of cynicism”. 

Shaked is a member of the Jewish Home party, which advocates the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank [Getty Images]
Shaked is a member of the Jewish Home party, which advocates the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank [Getty Images]

Shaked “uses the word ‘transparency’ to camouflage her objective: maligning and defaming organisations critical of the [Israeli] occupation and opposed to government policy”, the group said in a press release on Sunday.

If Shaked and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “are so concerned over foreign intervention in Israeli politics, they ought to start by waiving the millions [of dollars] from foreign business tycoons they receive for the benefit of primary elections”. 

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“These foreign monies constituted the overwhelming bulk of contributions received by the heads of the Likud and Jewish Home parties.” 

Approached by Al Jazeera in June 2014, Shaked said of an earlier version of the bill: “It isn’t labelling left-wing NGOs. In this specific situation, the organisations become ‘the long hand’ of [a foreign] government.

Furthermore, there are similar rules in the US and other countries, and we didn’t hear [anyone] in those countries saying it’s an undemocratic law.”

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Source: Al Jazeera