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Israel NGO probe 'would harm human rights'

Feb. 21, 2011 9:45 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 22, 2011 4:07 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel's Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has warned that plans to set up a parliamentary inquiry into left-wing NGOs and rights groups would have a "chilling effect" on basic human rights.

The Knesset, or parliament, was due to vote on February 28 on a draft bill calling for the establishment of two panels of inquiry, one of which would probe the funding of groups whose work allegedly contributes to the "delegitimization" of the Israeli military.

A second committee would probe foreign government funding for Israeli organization.

But the vote has been delayed and no new date has been set, Knesset officials said Monday.

"It is not possible to ignore the 'chilling effect' that the establishment of these proposed investigation committees would have on basic rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of assembly," Weinstein wrote on Sunday in response to a petition to the High Court demanding he block the move.

The court rejected the petition because the Knesset has not yet voted on the bill, which is to be put to its first reading on Monday, Israeli press reports said. It would then have two more readings before passing into law.

A survey by the Haaretz newspaper suggested a slim majority of 61 MPs would back the bill, while 59 would oppose it.

The move was proposed by an MP from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The bill, which targets groups accused of working to bring military personnel and politicians before international tribunals on allegations of war crimes, has sparked widespread criticism in Israel.

Opponents accuse the bill's authors of leading a "witch-hunt" against groups whose political views they oppose, such as rights watchdog B'Tselem, soldiers' testimony network Breaking The Silence, and Machsom Watch, which monitor troops' actions at checkpoints.

But those in favor say the non-governmental organizations are weakening Israel's standing in the world by contributing to the overseas prosecution of Israeli military officers, politicians and officials facing charges of war crimes.

The also argue such groups are being funded by overseas governments and groups which are hostile to Israel.
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