Israel: NGO Transparency Law Triggers Division

The Knesset voted a controversial law on Monday, dubbed the Transparency Bill, which obliges NGOs that receive funding from abroad to declare and publish their sources of income in all dealings with officials as well as on all types of media.

The bill, heavily criticized as a tool modeled to target human rights organizations in the country, especially those advocating for Palestinian rights, was passed after a lengthy debate that divided the parliament.

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave assurances that the objective of the law is “to prevent an absurd situation, in which foreign states meddle in Israel’s internal affairs by funding NGOs, without the Israeli public being aware of it.” He tried to downplay criticisms against the law claiming that it will “increase transparency, contribute to creating a discourse that reflects the Israeli public opinion, and will strengthen democracy.”

The European Union last month warned that the law is “discriminatory” and threatened “Israel’s democratic foundation and international standing.”

Issac Herzog, head of the Israeli opposition, lamented that the law draws Israel back to the days of Benito Mussolini in Italy saying it is “indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society.” Head of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh said the law sought to “intimidate and wipe away the few organizations that act and fight in the public sphere for equality to the Arab public.”

Around 25 NGOs are expected to be affected by the law when it is enacted. Peace Now has vowed to take the matter to the high court because it expressly violates freedom of expression and is “tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations” in order to divert public debate and shelter government policies from scrutiny.

Left-wing NGOs are much more concerned about the law because most of their funds are from state institutions contrary to right-wing NGOs dependent largely on private funding.

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