Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

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.

How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?

Russian domestic television - the only source of foreign news for most Russians - consistently shows Europe over-run by immigrants, beset by terrorist atrocities, and on strike. This has serious consequences.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  2. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ
  3. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  4. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  5. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  6. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  7. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack
  8. European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations