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Modified version of controversial NGO bill approved by Knesset, enters final vote

June 28, 2016 6:26 P.M. (Updated: June 29, 2016 1:06 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A modified version of a controversial NGO "transparency" bill received approval in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, paving the way for the bill to enter its second and third readings which could potentially see the contentious legislation incorporated into Israeli law, according to various Israeli media outlets.

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee approved a modified version of the bill amid continued condemnation by left-wing Israeli organizations and politicians, who have claimed that the bill represents a concerted attack against groups working on Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The second and third reading of a bill in the Knesset takes place at one time, according to Haaretz. Therefore, the bill is set to enter the final voting stage which could result in the adoption of the controversial measure into Israeli law.

It is still not known when the final vote will take place. However, Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported that the vote was expected to take place at some point next week.

The so-called transparency bill was first introduced by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked -- also the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party -- and has aimed to require that NGOs to reveal their sources of funding if more than 50 percent came from foreign entities, in a move she said would crack down on groups who receive foreign funds in order to criticize Israel.

The controversial legislation provoked outrage among left-wing organizations in Israel, who have claimed to be unfairly targeted in the bill, as the bill would not apply to right-wing organizations who rely largely on private funding.

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.

Earlier this month, the list of NGOs singled out in the bill was released by The Jerusalem Post, revealing that 23 out of the 25 organizations were left-wing groups, with the two other groups reportedly being centrist of non-affiliated.

No right-wing organizations were listed, confirming fears among Israel’s left that the bill was being proposed as an attempt to disrupt the activities of left-wing organizations in Israel.

The new version of the bill would still require relevant NGOs to make their funding public on all written publications or correspondences with public officials if more than half their funding comes from foreign bodies, according to Israeli media.

Failure to do so would result in fines of up to $29,200 shekels ($7,500).

However, the current version would no longer force representatives of the NGOs to wear name tags with the name of their organizations displayed during Knesset meetings, and would not require representatives to announce their funding sources before speaking during Knesset meetings, according to a statement released on Sunday by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

The relevant organizations would instead be required to declare their funding sources to the Knesset committee in order to attend a government hearing.

Gilad Grossman, spokesman for Israeli human rights group Yesh Din -- one of the organizations being targeted in the bill -- told Ma’an earlier this month that the left-wing organizations listed on the bill already published 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.”

Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, also told Ma’an earlier this month that the group’s inclusion in the bill was “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.”
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