EU warns Israel’s NGO law harms democracy, opposition leader brands it ‘budding fascism’

A general view shows the plenum during a session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem. © Ronen Zvulun
The European Commission is concerned that the newly-passed Israeli law aimed at foreign-funded NGOs could undermine democracy and free speech. A major Israeli rights group pledged to appeal the law, which the opposition leader called “budding fascism.”

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed the bill on Monday, in a vote of 57 to 48.

The law, sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, will demand all NGOs that get 50 percent or more of their finances from foreign governments or bodies to give details about the source of the donations.

The NGOs in question should also be listing their sponsors’ countries in all official publications and on the groups’ websites, the law says.

Should an NGO disobey, it will be fined 29,200 shekels (US$7,500).

The legislation is set to take effect on January 1, 2017, with the donations set to be counted from that date on. Eighteen months later, the first report to the registrar will have to be made. Afterwards, the registrar will post the groups and the lists of their sponsors.

"Imagine if Israel had funded British organizations and encouraged them to back the exit from the EU. Britain has national honor. It would not have allowed Israel to meddle in its internal affairs," Shaked said after the vote.

However, the European Commission believes that the new rules “go beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations,” as quoted by Reuters.

What’s more, the new law could ruin the essential values of Israel, the EU said, calling it “a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society.”

According to the Justice Ministry’s estimate, as cited by Haaretz, there are 27 organizations in Israel which would fall under this law. The majority of them (25 out of 27) are left-wing human rights organizations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the bill's approval will increase transparency, encourage the creation of a debate which truly reflects public opinion in Israel and strengthen democracy.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog from the Israeli Labour Party, said the law was “indicative, more than anything, of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society.” Peace Now, an NGO which monitors Israeli settlements, claimed the law will be aimed only at human rights and peace groups.

The organization has promised to appeal the legislation in the Supreme Court, as it aims to “delegitimize left wing organizations, [and] pro-settler NGOs that receive millions of dollars in foreign donations without any transparency will remain unaffected.”

Human Rights Watch said would the Israeli authorities be really caring about transparency, they would "require all NGOs to actively alert the public to their sources of funding, not just those that criticize the government's policies."