Concern in Israel over bill on foreign-funded NGOs

Critics fear bill requiring NGOs to declare financial sources could undermine the country's democratic stature.

    Some NGOs' work could be perceived as meddling by foreign governments if the bill becomes law [AFP]
    Some NGOs' work could be perceived as meddling by foreign governments if the bill becomes law [AFP]

    Israeli cabinet ministers have approved a bill that critics say could severely curtail the influence of foreign-funded non-governmental organisations, including human-rights groups.

    The legislation, which was accepted on Sunday and expected to be passed into law this week, requires organisations that receive foreign funding to declare their financial sources on every documented report.

    It also mandates that their representatives wear tags publicising their funding in parliamentary meetings.

    The bill, proposed by Ayelet Shaket, Israel's justice minister, and backed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, could in turn harm the legitimacy of organisations receiving foreign funding.

    Their work would be perceived as efforts by foreign government to meddle in Israeli internal affairs, critics say.

    Numerous senior Israeli officials, including opposition leaders and members of the coalition government, have echoed concerns from civil rights groups that the bill could undermine the country's democratic stature.

    Isaac Herzog, an MP and opposition leader in Israel, criticised it as a bid to "muzzle" critics.

    Yaron Kemner, the spokesman for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), told Al Jazeera: "We are concerned about the way the democracy will operate from now on, because the government is trying to hurt organisations that are critical of it.

    "This law will have an affect on freedom of speech and political activity."

    Kemner noted that the legislation comes amid a growing campaign by right-wing NGOs against left-wing ones.

    "The last two weeks has seen a new stage in the fight against left-wing NGOs, with the right-wing organisations calling them traitors."

    'Mark of shame'

    Amjad Iraqi, a member of the Israel-based Adalah Legal Centre of Arab Minority Rights, said the bill was a "symbolic attack on human rights organisations" and part of a wider campaign against critics of government policies in Israel and Palestine.

    "The ideas for it in practice, is that Knesset members and government workers can see where these groups get their money from, and on that basis can make individual political discretions over whether to interact with the NGOs," he told Al Jazeera.

    "It is meant to make the Knesset, and the Israeli public, believe that this mark of 'foreign funding' should be a mark of shame. It is like a scarlet letter for NGOs.

    "The law fuels the public discourse of these NGOs as treasonous, which can negatively impact their work to engage Israeli society in human rights issues, including those related to Palestine."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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