Israel approves contentious NGO foreign funding law

Groups that largely rely on private donations from wealthy individuals, which tend to be the case for right-wing organisations, are exempt.

On Monday, the Israeli parliament voted 57-48 for the NGO law, which seeks to tighten up on transparency rules for foreign state-funded organizations.

Such groups must now declare they rely on foreign money in communications with officials, in the media and online.

United States and European officials expressed major concerns, saying it was a "one-sided" bill that was created to target groups which are critical of the current far-right government's policies.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), a co-sponsor of the bill, said Monday that foreign government funding of NGOs is a clandestine method for foreign countries to promote their interests in Israel.

A Justice Ministry analysis of the bill presented to the Knesset Law Committee last month showed that almost all the existing Israeli organizations that will be affected by the law's new requirements are anti-occupation activist groups, including prominent organizations such as B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Ir Amim, Gisha and Breaking the Silence, or pro-Palestinian organizations like Zochrot, which calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants into Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly supported the legislation, saying there is nothing anti-democratic about requiring transparency so the public is aware of the role of foreign governments in funding these groups.

The law will compel the relevant groups to report their main source of income to the NGO registrar, publish it on their website and state it in relevant publications.

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The law does not specifically refer to leftwing organisations, but will apply to about 25 NGOs.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog said ahead of the vote that the law represents "the buds of fascism blooming in Israel". "This new legislation risks undermining these values", said the commission, the executive arm of the EU.

The long-standing anti-occupation group Peace Now vowed to appeal against the law to the high court of justice, denouncing it as a "a blatant violation of freedom of expression".

As we know, there is already extensive transparency regarding the donations NGOs receive, especially with respect to foreign government funding.

"It is a law whose only aim is to silence and mark those who dare to voice criticism of the government or against settlements", the group said in a statement.

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".

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday at the US Capitol in Washington past year.

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