Israeli government targets foreign government funding of NGOs

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A bill that would impose new regulations on Israeli non-profit groups that receive funds from foreign governments won ministerial approval on Sunday, a move critics said targets pro-Palestinian organizations.

Ayelet Shaked, Israel's new Justice Minister of the far-right Jewish Home party, speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

Dubbed a “transparency bill” by its sponsor, far-right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, it would require NGOs to give details in all their official publications and communications with elected officials in Israel of overseas donations, if more than half of their funding came from foreign governments.

Critics say the legislation is discriminatory because it is mainly groups that oppose the right-wing government’s policies toward Palestinians which receive money from foreign governments and the European Union.

Private funds from overseas, such as money donated to Israeli groups that support Jewish settlement on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state, are not addressed in the bill, which is widely expected to win parliamentary approval.

There are more than 30,000 NGOs registered in Israel, about half of them active. Around 70 of those groups focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and receive funds either from the European Union as a whole, or individual governments, including Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Norway.

Shaked has said she was determined to crack down on those who take foreign money and then criticize Israel, accusing some NGOs of “eroding the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state”.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Shaked said the Israeli public had a “right to know when foreign governments are involved in the domestic matters of another country”.

From the point of view of advocacy groups, the bill is a dangerous step that would put Israel in a category with the likes of Russia, Turkey and neighboring Egypt, which often struggle to accept internal criticism and have banned some NGOs.

On Twitter, Peace Now, an Israeli NGO that tracks and opposes Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, called the legislation “a hate crime against democracy”.

“If the minister of justice is truly interested in transparency, she must first and foremost promote legislation requiring right-wing organizations to expose the millions they receive from private donors abroad and from the state budget,” it said.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ros Russell