Monday

23rd Oct 2017

Opinion

Israel needs outside 'interference'

  • Knesset. Liel: 'Legislation about to be voted on ... is strikingly similar to that from Apartheid South Africa' (Photo: Tzipi Livni)

When I took up the Israeli ambassadorship in South Africa in 1992 the tide of history was already turning towards democracy. But numerous Apartheid laws were still in force, albeit no longer strictly applied. I particularly remember those designed to disable civil society, destroy community organizations and stamp out human rights. These include laws to stifle funding to human rights organizations. I recall how alien this seemed to me at the time.

Today those memories come rushing back. Legislation about to be voted on in the Knesset is strikingly similar to that from Apartheid South Africa. The Ministerial Committee on legislation has approved amendments proposed by MKs Kirshenbaum and Akunis which would restrict funding from foreign states to local human rights groups. The enforcement of this law would chill Israeli democracy and what remains of our once-vibrant society.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

In South Africa, the process began with the Schlebusch Commission of Inquiry into Certain Organisations. Israeli MK Kirshenbaum recently proposed a similar committee intended to "probe the finances and legitimacy of Israeli human rights organizations." This is how it usually starts.

Immediately thereafter the South African parliament passed the Affected Organisations Act which aimed to "curb interference by foreign countries on the internal political scene" and to prevent "foreign financial assistance for the furtherance of any particular view." This applied to any group deemed to be an "Affected Organisation." The Israeli amendments speak in almost identical language of "Restricted Association."

The South African law at least guaranteed some form of due process in that a group could not be deemed an "Affected Organisation" unless declared so by the State President following a factual investigation and recommendation by a panel of three magistrates.

The proposed Israeli legislation provides for no equivalent due process. It states simply that "a Restricted Association shall not receive donations from a foreign state entity." This will include any group advocating refusal to do any part of military service or that promotes any form of boycott.

In 1973 the South African deputy minister of justice stated: "The republic defends its borders against political aggression. It must also prevent foreign financial interference in domestic political affairs." Those words would not sound strange if uttered by a present Israeli cabinet minister.

The danger of trying to seal a country off from the world was keenly appreciated by the lone voice of conscience in the South African parliament, a Jewish woman and a personal friend of mine, Helen Suzman. She said: "South Africa is slipping more and more into the control of a growing body of secret men, making secret investigations and reports." But a nationalist parliamentarian argued that the law was necessary to block funds to students who "aligned themselves with the blacks." This scare tactic worked and the South African bill was carried into law.

Like in Israel, the South African law was not targeted at groups involved in violent or illegal activity. Its targets were those consistent voices of conscience which had become a problem for the regime. The National Union of South African Students, the official representatives of all university students, was declared an Affected Organisation by the minister of justice. "What is being attacked" - said the students - "is the right of young people, to determine what is wrong with their society and to embark on creative programmes to counter its ills and to open the possibility for a positive future."

In defending the Fundraising Act of 1978, minister of justice Jimmy Kruger said "the act would be used to take action against fundraising activities aimed at undermining authority or threatening state security," saying that his government knew that large amount of money came to South Africa from abroad "actually intended to ensure our destruction."

Our Israeli politicians justify their actions with identical fears. The basis for the Kirshenbaum-Akunis law is that "organizations, which often refer to themselves as 'human rights organizations'," actually have the "sole purpose to cause harm and to alter Israel's political discourse from within."

The truth, however, is that the organizations likely to be affected are those fighting to preserve what remains of Israeli democracy and the progressive vision of the declaration of independence.

My experience in South Africa told me that such laws end up failing. They fail because a democratic country cannot close itself off from the world without destroying itself. The law intends to protect Israel's public image but in the process Israel's public image is damaged. The enactment of such a law delegitimizes Israel, whilst the importance of such organizations is only made more apparent.

When the Kirshenbaum Committee was suggested the co-director of Breaking the Silence, Mikhael Manekin, explained this dynamic: "They don't need to love us or tell us that we are patriots. They are doing far more damage to this place than we are. Because of them millions of Palestinians live under military occupation. Because of them Palestinian-Israelis do not live in full equality in their own country. And because of them our position in the world is deteriorating day by day."

This law will fail because shooting the messenger does not help. The world knows about the occupation. The waves of disapproval and outrage at this wrongdoing will wash over whatever barriers we erect.

It is imperative that Europe and the rest of the international community make it clear to Israel that the world will not be deterred from helping those Israelis who struggle for a solution based on human rights and justice.

The writer was the Israeli ambassador to South Africa between 1992 and 1994 and the director general of the ministry of foreign affairs of Israel

Europe awakens to Palestinian realities

With Ashton in Israel this week and with fresh EU reports on the realities of Israeli occupation, Europe should not squander its opportunity to build better relations with the rapidly changing Arab world.

Interpol needs EU help to stop abuse

The international police agency needs powerful actors to support its work and its reforms, and the EU can and should provide a positive influence.

News in Brief

  1. May: EU member states will not lose out with Brexit
  2. Slovakia pledges to be 'pro-European' oasis in region
  3. Report: Catalan leader to address Spanish senate
  4. Fiat-Chrysler 'obstructed justice' reports Le Monde
  5. EU presidency 'confident' on posted workers agreement
  6. Young conservatives boot out Erdogan's party
  7. Tsipras urged to let refugees go before winter sets in
  8. Thousands demand justice in Malta

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreI Say Europe, You Say...? Interview With EU Commission VP Jyrki Katainen
  2. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  4. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  5. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  6. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  7. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  10. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  11. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  12. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  2. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  3. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  5. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  6. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  7. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  8. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  9. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation