The Ministerial Legislative Committee on Sunday passed the “NGO Bill,” proposed by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and MK Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu), limiting foreign donations to Israeli non-governmental organizations.
The law is nothing if not controversial: it seeks to levy a fine of 45% on donations from abroad to Israeli organizations, if their goals or actions include a call to try IDF soldiers in international courts; a call to boycott, disinvest, or apply sanctions against the state of Israel or its citizens; the denial of the existence of the state of Israel as Jewish and democratic; incitement to racism, or support for an armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization against Israel.
MK Shaked argued that foreign funds are being used to subvert the will of the Israeli voter, permitting an extremist minority a disproportionately influential voice in the market of public opinions.
“This extremist minority endangers the state of Israel and is being employed as a universal beach head towards the delegitimization of Israel,” Shaked said, adding, “This important law will help dramatically in the fight against this phenomenon and to limit foreign states’ ability to intervene in Israel’s internal affairs.”
Eight ministers voted for the bill and four against. The next step is introducing the bill for an initial vote by the Knesset plenum. But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has announced that she intends to appeal the committee decision in the high court, which in Israel doesn’t have to wait until a bill becomes a law. One of the perks of being a judge in Israel is that you can subvert the will of the voter on the national and municipal level, and abort legislative efforts even as they are being conceived.
The Ministerial committee approved the proposed bill despite the opinion of AG Yehuda Weinstein, who believes it is unconstitutional. In his opinion, the proposed law would not impose a tax on the targeted NGOs, but a fine, intended to generate a chilling effect and to effectively block donations to these organizations.
This means that should Weinstein be called on to defend the bill against an appeal by the Justice minister, he would have a hard time fulfilling his prescribed duties.
In my humble opinion, the Shaked bill is extremely dangerous, handing government even more power than it already has to repress democratic activity. As usual, Israeli politicians continue to fail to understand that the highest function of a democracy is not majority rule—you can get that in most political environments, from Ruanda to China—but the protection of minorities. Especially the minorities government loathes.
The Israeli political system already has way too much power over individuals and organizations, and I fear that the law that subverts free speech in support of a cause I support would one day be used against me and on behalf of causes I detest.
Israel already has laws on the books prohibiting advocating boycotts and disinvestments. Those can be used to protect and defend Israeli concerns without resorting to dangerous, new legislation.