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Netanyahu calls for barring all foreign government funding to Israeli NGOs

June 12, 2017 3:06 P.M. (Updated: June 13, 2017 11:42 A.M.)
(AFP/ Sebastian Scheiner, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he would seek to push forward ever more stringent regulations of foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, a move that has been denounced as the latest attempt to stifle human rights organizations in Israel.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu said during a meeting that the controversial NGO law passed in 2016 was not strong enough, and that the Israeli government needed to prevent any foreign government funding from reaching NGOs.

Israel’s controversial "NGO transparency" law passed last summer, compelling organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from public foreign entities. In February, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, also introduced legislation that would limit human rights organizations’ access to government information.

“This law is vital and critical and meant to defend Israeli democracy from meddling from foreign countries in its domestic matters,” Matan Peleg, the head of far-right Israeli NGO Im Tirtzu, was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying. “Disrespect and abuse of Israeli sovereignty by planted organizations must stop.”

However, Knesset member Michal Rozin called the move “another effort by the prime minister to wink to the right at the expense of Israeli democracy.”

“The NGOs are not the problem, but rather the solution, and that is why the right-wing government is shaking,” the Meretz party member said.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, while the bill could impact non-political organizations if too broadly phrased, framing the bill to specifically target so-called left-wing organizations that criticize Israel's human rights violations could lead the Israeli Supreme Court to strike it down for violating freedom of speech.

The “NGO transparency” law passed in July 2016 compels organizations to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from public foreign entities.

The overwhelmingly majority of affected NGOs have been left-leaning, as organizations in Israel that rely on public foreign funding tend to oppose the government’s right-wing policies and human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, the law does not affect right-wing organizations, who rely largely on private, as opposed to public, funding from overseas.

Netanyahu’s announcement on Sunday came on the same day as he called for the dismantlement of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) -- the UN agency responsible for providing services to more than five million Palestinian refugees across the occupied Palestinian territory and the Middle East.

As international criticisms around Israel’s human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory have increased in recent years, the Israeli government has responded by fast-tracking a series of right-wing policies that rights groups claim are aimed at weeding out any criticisms aimed at the Israeli state.

In April, Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, after the latter planned meetings with representatives of Israeli groups Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem -- two organizations targeted by the “NGO transparency” law that aim to expose the crimes of the Israeli occupation.

The Israeli government has also introduced anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) policies, including passing a law in March banning foreigners who have openly expressed support for BDS from entering the country.
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