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Daily Israel Report

New Version of 'NGO Bill' Headed for Knesset

MKs Shaked and Ilatov will try to get majority for bill that is based on US Foreign Agent Registration Law.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/25/2014, 9:34 PM

Ayelet Shaked
Ayelet Shaked
Flash90

Nationalist MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Robert Ilatov (Likud-Beytenu) are about to present a new bill that is based on the US's Foreign Agent Registration Law, in an effort to make it more difficult for hostile NGOs to operate inside Israel.

According to Maariv-NRG, the bill would mandate greater transparency on the part of NGOs that are funded by foreign governments, and cancel the tax-free status they enjoy.

Two previous bills meant to make it harder for hostile leftist NGOs to operate in Israel were blocked by the same NGOs and their supporters.

The bill would create a mechanism that defines as a foreign agent a body that receives funding from a foreign state, following a commitment to advance that state's interests, or the interests of people who are not Israeli citizens.

Such a body would have to report the identity of the state to which it gave its commitments, the details of the assistance it received, a full description of its commitments to the foreign entity and a full description of the activity it intends to carry out.

The body would have to note in all of its documents, and on its internet website, that it is defined as foreign agent.

In addition, the tax-free status of foreign contributions to the body would be canceled. The foreign funds it receives will be taxed, thus removing an important incentive to such groups' activities.

"These organizations, which operate with a lack of transparency as regards the goals of their activity, and under a guise of organizations that operate for the Israeli interest, are eligible for tax-free status nowadays, although the Israeli public does not benefit from their activities and the goal of the groups is to benefit foreign interests,” the bill's explanatory notes say.

One of the two earlier bills that sought to limit the operations of radical leftist NGOs would have taxed donations they received from foreign state entities, while the other sought to block registration of the NGOs if they negated the Jewish character of the state of Israel. Both failed to pass. 

The new version of the bill may be more in line with the recommendations made by NGO Monitor in the wake of the previous bills. 

Instead of taxing foreign contributions, Israel should focus on exposing them, NGO Monitor suggested. The group called for “full enforcement” of a 2011 law requiring NGOs to reveal funding they received from foreign governments. The 2011 law was passed because “Both the secrecy of funding procedures and the external manipulation of civil society were understood to violate the accepted norms and practices among sovereign democratic nations,” the group stated.

NGO Monitor has previously argued that groups which receive most of their funding from foreign governments do not actually qualify as NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations).

A 2010 report by NGO Monitor revealed that many of the best-known left-wing NGOs in Israel receive more than half of their total donations from foreign governments. Among the NGOs in question were the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Alternative Information Center (AIC), Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Ir Amim and Yesh Din.

Several of the groups that were found to have received more than half of their funding from foreign governments in 2009-2010 were involved in providing anti-Israel testimony to the Goldstone Committee, which went on to condemn Israel based in large part on the groups’ claims.

Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) reacted to news of the newest bill by saying that it was an attempt by the extreme right to harm public discourse in Israel. “Civil society is the watchdog of the public sector,” she declared, “and any harm done to organizations that operate for civil rights and citizens' rights, harms the values that the state was based upon.”

"Civil society” is a phrase often used by leftists groups to denote the part of the public that supports them.