Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Israeli MPs to resume work on NGO gag laws

The flow of information to the outside world on Israeli settler and military abuses could diminish, as the Knesset resumes work, on Monday (12 October), with NGO gag laws on its agenda.

The two NGO bills were drafted before the summer recess by members of the hard-right Jewish Home party in the ruling coalition - Bezalel Smotrich and Yinon Magal.

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The Smotrich bill says NGOs which receive grants from foreign governments must "conspicuously indicate" their outside support on all publications and in all letters or "spoken communication" with civil servants.

They must also wear a special badge when meeting public officials.

The Magal bill says the NGOs are to be designated as "foreign agents".

They must label all publications with the phrase, which is to be "no smaller than one eighth of the page or advertising space".

It obliges them to file quarterly declarations of foreign income and of "the foreign activity which it has performed or intends to perform".

It obliges them to pay 37 percent tax on foreign grants.

The bill also says "government ministries and Israeli Defense Forces will avoid cooperation with a foreign agent", with "cooperation" designated as "among other things: the transfer of budgets, national service regulations, the organisation of conferences and symposiums, or joint publications".

'Foreign interests'

Smotrich's "rationale" is that foreign-funded NGOs shouldn't be allowed to "represent inside Israel the interests of foreign states in a non-transparent manner".

Magal says "they must present themselves as entities who explicitly represent foreign interests that do not align with the Israeli interest".

The Jewish Home party's justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, went further in June, describing foreign grants as "contaminated and corrupted money whose purpose is to subsidise self-hatred … a fifth column".

The draft laws are expected to be amalgamated in a government bill and tabled for a first reading in the coming days or weeks.

EU part-funded NGOs, such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, or Territorial Jerusalem, which contribute information to EU and UN diplomats, say the legislation is an attempt to "gag" their work.

Breaking the Silence said if the laws are passed it "will undermine Israel's civil society".

For her part, Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, told the European Parliament in a statement on 28 September that she "personally" voiced concern on the potential crackdown on her last visit to Israel.

She added that EU support for Israeli civil society aims to "advance the rights of vulnerable groups or minorities within Israel, notably the Arab minority" and "promote ... respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory".

A senior EU diplomat told this website the EU is "one of the biggest funders" of Israeli NGOs and that the laws, if passed, could damage the "atmosphere and environment" in which the NGOs work.

Violence

The Knesset session will open amid a fresh wave of violence.

On Monday morning, a Palestinian tried to stab an Israeli border guard before being shot.

On Sunday, an Arab Israeli stabbed four Jewish Israelis and a Palestinian driver detonated a bomb at a roadside checkpoint. A Palestinian boy also died in clashes in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, and an Israeli air strike killed a pregnant woman and her daughter in Gaza.

Mogherini phoned Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to appeal for "calm".

But the situation is likely to harden the NGO debate.

For its part, Breaking the Silence has highlighted that Honenu, a right-wing Israeli NGO, is channelling US donations to families of Jewish settlers convicted of murder, attempted murder, and kidnappings of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the My Israel movement, an online group which says it has 140,000 cyber "soldiers", last month flooded the Dutch foreign ministry with signatures designed to stop B’Tselem from winning a Dutch prize, the Human Rights Tulip award.

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