Israel cracks the whip, too

| | in Big Story
Israel cracks the whip, too

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister Shaked call the Left-liberal bleeding hearts’ bluff

It’s not just India, but Israel too that has been facing the dubious agenda of certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In response, the country’s Parliament, Knesset, recently adopted a highly contentious Bill which makes its mandatory for NGOs that get a majority of their funding from foreign sources, to disclose the same in all their official communications. Left-leaning advocacy groups and individuals have expectedly lashed out at the new law, claiming that it was the Israeli Government’s method to muzzle the NGOs who differed with the regime. This is amusing, since all that the Bill has sought is transparency — the  favourite buzz word of the NGOs, who demand it all the time. What is the harm if the Israeli Government asks them to practise what they preach?

Titled, Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities Bill 5766-2016, the legislation will impact no more than two dozen NGOs in Israel that are funded by foreign sources (Governments) by more than 50 per cent. And yet, the resulting brouhaha would suggest that the Israeli regime has cracked down across the board on the independence of NGOs and voluntary organisations. The over-reaction is both misplaced and contrived to suit an agenda that is far from noble.

Critics have said that most of the NGOs affected would be the ‘anti-Occupation’ advocacy groups. If this is true, it’s because the outfits that get more than half of their funding from foreign soil, are in the forefront of the drive against the settlements which Israel is pursuing in a region which detractors term as ‘being occupied’ by Israel. NGOs

have no business interfering in matters of sensitive political interest. It is a matter that is being dealt with at various global levels.

The Palestinian Authority as well as the Government of Israel have to find a middle way out of the crisis that is decades old. If the NGOs get hyperactive in these affairs, the Israeli Government and the people of the Jewish state have a right to know the identity of the funders behind such anti-Israeli campaign.

It’s difficult to disagree with the Bill’s explanatory preface, where the authors of the law say such groups “work in Israel in the name of foreign state entities’; “work in a non-transparent manner”; represent the “outside interests of foreign states, while pretending to be a domestic organisation concerned with the interests of the Israeli public”.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that foreign agencies, and countries where the donors are based, have opposed the Bill. The European Commission has termed it as going “beyond the legitimate need for transparency”. The United Nations too has taken a dim view. All of this is understandable. But, unfortunately, certain opposition parties within Israel have also added their voice in support of the foreign funded NGOs. Opposition leader Yitzhag Herzog saw in the law “budding fascism creeping into Israeli society”. Since he leads the Opposition Labour Party and is keen to displace Netanyahu as Prime Minister, his zeal to denounce the NGO  legislation is largely politically motivated and has little to do with his supposed commitment to an ‘open society’.

The Benjamin Netanyahu Government has thankfully stayed the course, refusing to budge despite international and domestic condemnation. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the law’s aim was to “prevent an abs urd situation, in which foreign states meddle in Israel’s internal affairs by funding the NGOs without the Israeli public being aware of it”. He added later that the law would contribute to “creating a discourse that reflects the Israeli public opinion, and will strengthen democracy”.

His Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked put up a spirited defence in a letter she addressed to the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group of the German Bundestag. She said, “A serious public debate was held on the specific issue of whether it is appropriate for foreign Governments to fund non-governmental organisations in Israel”, and added, “Due to the significant role that NGOs play in Israel, apprehension was expressed over the involvement of foreign Governments and organisations and how this could potentially infringe upon Israel’s sovereignty.” This is not a red herring.

Shaked’s missive was in response to a letter that four members of the German-Israeli parliamentary group sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu to register their protest against the Bill. In the letter, the lawmakers’ group head Volker Beck of the Green Party and three others informed Netanyahu that the Bill’s passage would make it tough for Israel’s friends in Germany to help Israel when it faces boycotts at international forums. It was a shoddy attempt at blackmail, and it didn’t work. With Israel, such tricks usually don’t. 

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