Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin NetanyahuMarc Israel Sellem/POOL

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hit back at critics of the government's NGO Transparency Bill Sunday, noting that similar laws already exist in other Western countries.

But speaking at the start of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he would be tweaking the bill somewhat to model it along precisely the same lines as existing US laws - effectively neutralizing some of the strongest criticisms.

The bill - sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) - would obligate any NGOs who receive 50% or more of their funding from foreign states to open their finances to public scrutiny, as well as to identify themselves as "foreign agents" when lobbying in the Knesset.

Although the bill applies to all NGOs regardless of political or other stances, leftist NGOs are up in arms, as in practice they are the only NGOs who receive funds from foreign states - particularly European Union states - to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually.

While they claim the bill is meant to hamper their activities - despite it not placing any such restrictions - the bill's supporters say it is a crucial tool to prevent foreign states from undermining the Israeli democratic process by funding organizations with the explicit objective of directly influencing government policy or placing pressure on the State of Israel. Ironically, the European Union recently approved tens of thousands of euros to one such leftist NGO - B'Tselem - as part of a political campaign to derail the bill.

Among the most vocal critics of the bill is the US State Department - something Netanyahu said he didn't quite understand given that a very similar American law - the US Foreign Agents Registration Act

While expressing "surprise" at the criticism, Netanyahu noted that his new adjustments to the government-sponsored law meant there now really was no further grounds for opposition.

"I don't understand how a demand for transparency is ant-democratic," he said. "The opposite is true - in a democracy people want to know who is financing this NGO or that, from the left to the right, from top to bottom."

In particular, he added, foreign state actors pouring funds into specific NGOs to further certain political goals "is definitely something that the public needs to know about."

"What needs to be done is to establish norms which were adopted by the US House of Representatives," Netanyahu continued. "Therefore, I have requested to promote this law with two adjustments."

"The first adjustment is to remove the requirement to place labels on representatives of these NGOs in the Knesset," he declared, scrapping an aspect of the law which has been seized upon as "incitement" by many on the Left.

Netanyahu explained that the most important objective of the bill was to ensure total transparency "from the first Shekel and from the first dollar of foreign governments - and so we will model the law on what is already accepted in the US."

Netanyahu also related to the decision last night by the UN to begin providing sanctions relief to Iran.

"Israel will continue to follow all international violations by Iran, including concerning the nuclear agreement, ballistic missiles and terrorism.

"The international community must enact severe sanctions... against any violations," he warned.

He claimed that were it not for Israel's intensive efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions until now - including holding its nuclear program up for international scrutiny - "it would have had a nuclear weapon a long time ago."

He further warned that sanctions relief would help fuel Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

"What is clear is that from now Iran will have more means to direct terror activity and its aggression throughout the world, and Israel is prepared to deal with any threat."