Israel Passes New NGO Bill to Clamp Down on Human Rights Groups

Opposition Leader: NGO Law Sign of 'Budding Fascism' in Israel

by Jason Ditz, July 11, 2016

In a close 57-48 vote, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, today passed a controversial bill regulating non-government organizations that receive foreign government funding, a bill which will apply overwhelmingly to human rights groups.

That’s the whole point of the bill, which Israel’s far-right government has argued will strike a blow against “foreign interference” in Israeli affairs. Prime Minister Benjmain Netanyahu termed it a “democratic” bill, accusing the European Union of trying to advance their support for a two-state solution by bankrolling NGOs in Israel.

US and European officials expressed major concerns, saying it was a “one-sided” bill that was designed to target groups which are critical of the current far-right government’s policies. German officials likened it to Russian efforts to clamp down on foreign NGOs.

Though Russia’s efforts received a lot more criticism, they did a lot less in practice, as Russia’s clampdown almost exclusively targeted NGOs that were directly involved in elections. The Israeli bill, by contrast, is mostly going after groups with no real political representation but who are publicly critical of government actions.

Reflecting the discomfort a lot of Israelis are feeling with this new law, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog said the new law was “indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, a current MP, praised the bill, saying it might hurt Israel diplomatically, but that “I have no doubt that left-wing non-profits such as Breaking the Silence are working to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”

Such groups have been increasingly demonized by the ruling coalition for publishing reports which publicize major Israeli crimes under international law. Breaking the Silence, in particular, documented war crimes during the most recent Gaza War, and has faced repeated condemnation.

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