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Israel's 'transparency' bill applies almost exclusively to left-wing groups

June 2, 2016 10:30 P.M. (Updated: July 12, 2016 12:34 P.M.)
An Israeli flag, displayed on a roof of a settlement in East Jerusalem, is seen in front of the dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 17, 2015 (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
By: Jaclynn Ashly

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A list of NGOs that would be targeted in Israel’s controversial “transparency” bill was made public on Thursday, revealing that 23 of the 25 organizations listed were left-wing groups -- news which the targeted NGOs told Ma’an constitutes a “political assault on dissent.”

In December, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is also the leader of the ultranationalist Israeli Home Party, pushed for a “transparency” bill that would compel NGOs to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from foreign governments, in a move she said would crack down on groups who receive foreign funds in order to criticize Israel.

Organizations that fit the bill’s criteria would be obligated to make their foreign funding public in publications and reports, and in any contact with public officials or employees.

Representatives of such organizations would also be forced to wear name tags at Knesset meetings displaying the name of their organization. Failure to abide would lead to fines up to 29,200 shekels ($7,561).

The list of NGOs, obtained exclusively by Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post, revealed that 23 out of the 25 organizations were left-wing groups, with two groups reportedly being centrist or non-affiliated.

No right-wing organizations were listed.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the organizations listed include B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Economic Cooperation Foundation, Yesh Din and The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel -- all of which work on Palestinian rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

The bill passed its first reading in the Knesset in February, and returned to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Critics have slammed the bill, with Meretz party chairwoman Zehara Galon calling the bill in December “political persecution,” “censorship,” and a “witch hunt.”

Since organizations in Israel which rely on foreign funding also tend to oppose the government’s right-wing policies against Palestinians, the potential legislation has been deemed an attempt to weed out human rights groups working to denounce large-scale human rights violations in the occupied territory.

“This is a blacklist we are proud to be on, and it puts to rest the government's bogus claim this bill is anything other than a political assault on dissent,” Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for Israeli human rights group B’Tselem told Ma’an on Thursday.

Yesh Din spokesman Gilad Grossman told Ma’an that the left-wing organizations listed on the bill already publish all of their funding sources on their websites.

“You don’t need anymore proof that this bill has nothing to do with transparency. It’s part of a delegitimization campaign centered on attacking left-wing organizations and civil society,” Grossman said.

“This is coming from a government that consistently tries to whitewash a long list of crimes committed by Israelis in the occupied West Bank. It is yet another attempt at silencing groups in Israel who are trying to combat these right-wing policies against Palestinians,” he added.

“The Israeli government is trying to paint human rights organizations as foreign agents and it’s a blatant lie.”

The “transparency” bill has been referred to by critics as a dangerous addition to the increasingly right-wing policies of the Israeli government, as extreme nationalist views have become mainstream in the Israeli public arena.

Leftist Israeli NGOs have faced an intensifying government crackdown in past months for their work.

Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization which provides testimonies of Israeli soldiers and veterans recounting their experiences serving in the occupied Palestinian territory, were accused of “treason” in March for releasing accounts by soldiers reportedly containing classified information -- a charge the group has consistently denied.

An Israeli court held a hearing in May over the charges, with the attorney general demanding the group release the identity of soldiers who gave accounts of human rights abuses and war crimes committed in the occupied territory.

The court hearing was delayed until July 18 after the attorney general requested additional time to prepare the case.

The group has said the move is a government attempt to shut down the organization and prevent it from continuing its work, which is dependent on maintaining the anonymity of soldiers who come forward to reveal human rights abuses committed against Palestinians.
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