We are witnessing an unprecedented attempt to interfere with the activities of Israelihuman rights groups.
These governmental attempts to narrow the space in whichhuman rights groups in Israel operate form the context for a proposed law torestrict the ability of Israeli human rights groups – and a host of additional civilsociety organizations – to receive funding from foreign governmental sources.2. The Proposed Law
Status of the Bill
On February 14, 2010, the Israeli government voted (by a vote of 8-3 of the MinisterialCommittee on Legislation) to support a legislative bill entitled the "Bill on disclosurerequirements for recipients of support from a foreign political entity – 2010". Civil
society groups have expressed their grave concern over this bill, which passed apreliminary vote (58-11) in the Knesset plenum on February 17, 2010 and is scheduled tobe brought for a full vote in the next Knesset session, after the Passover holiday. The proposed legislation, steps away from being approved as law, would restrict theactivities of a host of organizations working on a broad spectrum of issues in Israel andthe oPt – from environmental groups to peace organizations to organizations thatpromote human rights. While the legislation purports to increase transparency concerning foreign funding of NGOs, in reality it will infringe on the ability of a wide variety of social changeorganizations to conduct their work by undermining public legitimacy and limiting funding opportunities.
The Bill in a Nutshell
The bill would define civil society groups that work to influence public opinion orgovernmental policy as engaging in "political activity" and require them to register withthe "Political Parties Registrar". Should they fail to do so, principal activists within thesegroups would face fines and imprisonment of up to one year.Moreover, the bill would force representatives of civil society groups – including lawyers,doctors, and other professionals – to state in every private and public platform related totheir advocacy work, including public meetings, events, and media interviews, that theirorganizations receive funding from "foreign political entities".Finally, according to the bill, the tax-exempt charity status of NGOs promoting policy change would be revoked, threatening the ability of donors to support their work.
Treating Civil Society Groups as Political Parties
The bill would characterize nonaffiliated civil society organizations as "political parties",effectively creating a duplicative regime of regulation. Currently the Law of Associationsof 1980 regulates the registration, organization, and financial reporting of Israeli NGOs(
). NGOs working for social change are not affiliated with political parties butrather seek to promote issues or ideas – human rights, environmental protection, women's rights, peace, religious pluralism, tolerance – and to promote policy changesthat serve the public interest. In fact, the NGO community in Israel plays a key role in