Israeli government back bill to limit funding for human rights groups

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation today (Sunday) approved two bills that would limit foreign funding for Israeli human rights and peace organizations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already announced support for one of the bills, sponsored by two members of his Likud party – MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis – which would cap foreign governments’ contributions to “political” non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, is throwing its weight behind the second initiative brought for by party MK Fania Kirshenbaum, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments’ donations to NGOs ineligible for state funding.  Taken together, these laws would essentially shut down all human rights organization in Israel. The legislative proposals will now be sent to the Knesset for further discussion and three readings before they become law.

Of the 18 members of Israel Ministerial Committee for Legislation, 11 voted for the proposals, five objected while 2 abstained. In explanatory comments, the Israeli bill says it expressly intended to “bar Israeli organizations from receiving money from foreign governments and international groups such as the United Nations and European Union”.

While the measure does not specify which Israeli organizations are being targeted, one of its sponsors, Likud lawmaker Akunis, cited the settlement watch group and peace movement “Peace Now,” human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories group “B’Tselem” and a military watchdog called “Breaking the Silence” as foreign aid recipients.

The measure is one of several condemned as bids to muzzle critics of Israeli policies toward Palestinians who seek a Palestinian state on land Israel occupied in a 1967 war.