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Netanyahu Tables Foreign Funding Bill, Again

For the second time in a week, PM Netanyahu has zig-zagged on a bill restricting foreign funds for domestic political NGOs.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 12/7/2011, 9:03 PM

Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin froze discussions of a bill that would limit foreign donations to political NGO's in Israel on Wednesday.

The decision, which marks Netanyahu's second reversal on the same issue in less than a week, came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed Netanyahu he would not defend the bill should it be challenged in court. Weinstein claims the so-called Law of Associations is "unconstitutional."

As a result, Netanyahu reportedly decided to postpone a Cabinet discussion of the bill slated for later this week.

Sources close to Prime Minister told the Hebrew-language Maariv "the Law of Associations will not be discussed next cabinet meeting," adding the "Prime Minister wants time to examine the opinion of the Attorney General."

Israel's media has widely reported Weinstein's objections are in relation to the orginal foreign funding bills, which Netanyahu ordered killed in committee early last week. However, the current foreign funding bill – drafted as a compromise between Netanuahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Bateinu) – was complete before Weinstein's latest objections.

MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), one of the initiators of the now-tabled bill, expressed surprise at the PMO's announcement Netanyahu planned to delay discussions of the Law of Associations.

She said, "the old bill no longer exists. I submitted a new version together with MK Ofir Akunis (Likud). The text is already final and the Knesset secretariat assures me it is only waiting on a serial number so that we can begin the legislative process."

"This new bill is a new law written to the Prime Minister's specifications from scratch. There is nothing to discuss. The old law that was found objectionable no longer exists," she added.

Weinstein's declaration that he would not defend the Law of Associations should the government vote to back it is unprecedented as his office exists to represent the government in court. Legal observers note Weinstein's role at this stage is to advise Israel's government, which is not bound to abide by his opinion on any given law.

Should Weinstein find his conscience does not allow him to defend the law, legal observers note, he has the option of resigning.

Netanyahu last Friday reversed course and backed the new foreign funding bill by MKs Akunis and Kirshenbaum that aimed to find a compromise formula by distinguishing between different types of NGOs.

The new bill divides NGOs into three categories and forbids any donations to NGO's that reject Israel's right to exist, incite racism, support violence against Israel, support trying Israeli soldiers or officials in international courts, call for boycotts of Israel, or issue calls for IDF personnel to disobey orders.

Donations from within Israel to such organizations will be subject to a 45 percent tax.

Political organizations that do not fall in the prohibited category will also have to pay a 45 percent tax on donations, barring a Knesset waiver.

Non-political organizations that receive state funding will be tax exempt and may receive unlimited donations from foreign governments.