“A network of about 30 groups claiming to promote human rights and peace have received large grants from the European Union and individual governments,” Steinberg explained.
“The scale of this funding, with annual budgets upwards of $1 million, as well as the extreme secrecy and impact, are unique; there are no parallels in relations between democracies,” Steinberg continued. While there are a few EU-funded U.S.-based groups that oppose, for example, the death penalty,” Steinberg continued, “Israeli NGOs are specifically and intentionally targeted.
“Imagine the response if Europe were to provide $2 billion–the per capita equivalent–to fringe American NGOs focusing on controversial issues, such as abortion or immigration,” is what Steinberg reasonably asks to draw a comparison — and then insisted that they be allowed to pour that kind of money into U.S. political debates without even disclosing what they were doing.
US SEEKS TO DISTINGUISH US LAW FROM ISRAELI LAW
On Monday, Jan. 11, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro met with Ayelet Shaked to discuss the Transparency bill. Following that meeting the Embassy issued a statement which provided the same vague concern that in a free and functioning civil society such as Israel,”governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”
The U.S. Embassy also released a statement in which it characterized the differences between FARA and Israel’s proposed Transparency Law.
The statement attempts to draw a sharp distinction between what the U.S. law covers as opposed to Israel’s proposed law, and suggests that the U.S. law “does not focus on funding by foreign governments, it instead focuses on activities engaged in ‘at the order, request or under the direction or control of a foreign principal,’ rather than funding,” which is what Israel’s law focuses on.
But to pretend that such a distinction is meaningful is to ignore the bald ambiguity of “under the direction or control of a foreign principal.” Of course the foreign governments are giving the money to these non-profit organizations in order to further their own positions. It’s at best naive, bordering on ridiculous, to suggest that could not or does not constitute “direction or control.”
Why the U.S. casts Israel’s proposed law as possibly “creat[ing] the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about” is difficult to fathom, given the only requirement is that the funding source be identified, and even then only if it constitutes more than 50 percent of the entity’s entire budget. Chilling? Hardly.
U.S. LAW HAS CRIMINAL PENALTIES, EXTENSIVE REPORTING REQUIREMENTS AND VAGUE STANDARDS
The U.S. law, and this is something the U.S. Embassy failed to point out, differs in that it contains criminal sanctions: up to five years in prison and/or $10,000 for violations. The U.S. law also imposes exacting and onerous reporting requirements. Finally, the test for whether the Israeli law will apply is a simple test of arithmetic — more than 50% or less — so no ambiguity clouds anyone’s judgment or creates uncertainty about liability. The U.S. law, by contrast, uses ambiguous words and tests which are far more likely to lead to over-broad applications and chilling of speech than does the straightforward Israeli proposal’s standard.
Perhaps an excellent illustration of how the simple funding threshold is useful and designed precisely to address the sole motivating issue is the recent revelation that the European Union’s European Foundation for Democracy provided 30,000 Euros to the Israeli leftist non-governmental organization B’tselem to lobby against the proposed Transparency law.
As NGO-Monitor spokesman Aaron Kalman pointed out, that grant which was “openly aiming at influencing Israeli legislation, again highlights the infringement on sovereignty and the manipulative intent of European government funding in the context of Israeli democracy.”