EU should help stop Israel's NGO bill
By Gaby Lasky
“Hasbara” is the Hebrew word for Israel’s international campaign to disseminate favourable information about the actions of its government.
In a classic hasbara move, the Israeli embassy to the European Union recently circulated a message aiming to curb the growing international criticism of anti-democratic legislation in Israel that seeks to hinder and restrict human rights and pro-peace organisations.
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The embassy’s message focussed on a new “NGO bill” promoted by justice minister Ayelet Shaked and supported by prime minister Netanyahu, which stigmatizes human rights and pro-peace NGOs and mobilizes against their foreign funding, including funding by the European Union and EU member states.
The Israeli Knesset is expected to vote on the bill today (8 February).
Interestingly, the embassy’s message did not explain the content of that bill and merely claimed what it is not. It claimed that the bill doesn’t place any limits on the funding and activities of NGOs, that it doesn’t discriminate between NGOs on the basis of political orientation and that it doesn’t restrict their freedom of association.
However, the NGO bill’s intention and consequences dramatically differ from these claims. Recent statements made by leading Israeli politicians underline that.
In an orchestrated campaign against several Israeli NGO’s, education minister Naftali Bennet and the leader of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid compared some Israeli human rights defenders to “Jewish terrorists”.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, called Israeli human rights organisations “traitors”.
A member of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party submitted a bill to define human rights NGOs as “moles” of foreign countries. Another bill was submitted specifically to outlaw “Breaking the Silence”, an Israeli organisation of veteran soldiers who testify about the realities of military occupation in the Palestinian territories.
Justice minister Ayelet Shaked also said on her Facebook page: “Israel’s haters do not necessarily speak foreign languages, dress differently or fight for terrorist organizations. Some of them manifest their hate through polite discussions from the podium of various parliaments, with arrogance and full confidence in light of the enormous financial support they receive from foreign countries. This is contaminated and corrupted money whose purpose is to subsidize self-hatred and ugly actions. A fifth column, no less.”
It is true that the new NGO bill promoted by Shaked doesn’t explicitly mention peace and human rights organizations. However, these organisation will be the only ones affected by the law - and that is the political goal of those who sponsor it.
This is due to the fact that no settler or “pro-occupation” organizations receive funding from foreign governments. These organisations are funded by the state of Israel and by private foreign donors who fund them at a much larger scale and are exempted from many transparency requirements.
Thus, it is clear that the bill’s calculated intention is to undermine and silence human rights defenders and to selectively target NGOs that expose and criticize the government’s policies in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
What does the new bill say?
According to it, Israeli NGOs receiving the majority of their funds from foreign governments will be required to mark their documents, publications and social media pages accordingly, to state the fact they are “foreign funded” in any inquiry made to an elected public representative or public official (including to soldiers) and to expose themselves as “foreign funded” in any discussion with public officials.
Additionally, NGOs will be required to state the names of the countries that donated to them.
A requirement to wear a badge to visibly mark human rights defenders as “foreign funded” when they visit the Israeli parliament has been omitted in an attempt to soften international criticism.
This NGO bill is just another aspect of a wider campaign to destroy the work of Israeli NGOs that call for an end to Israel’s 48-year old military occupation over the Palestinians.
During the last few months, human rights and pro-peace NGOs have been facing an aggressive incitement campaign by right-wing organisations. For example, activists of these organization have been planted as “spies” in various human rights and peace NGOs in order to collect incriminating evidence about their work.
Some of these infiltrations were funded by extreme right-wing settler organizations that receive public funding from Israeli authorities. These organisations won’t be affected by the new NGO bill.
The goal of that bill is clear: it is to name, shame, harass and discredit Israel’s most prominent human rights and peace organisations and to create an atmosphere of intolerance to alternative narratives that are based on peaceful co-existence and human rights.
It is a moral obligation, a democratic responsibility and a political interest of Israel’s friends in Europe to stand with those vulnerable organisations and defend their importance to Israel’s democracy and to fundamental values that Israel claims to share with the EU.
Don’t let hasbara stop you from saving these organisations.
Gaby Lasky is an Israeli human rights lawyer who represents human rights activists and organisations. She is also a member of the Meretz political party.