US opposes new Israeli NGO transparency bill

In what appears to be a gross misunderstanding or misrepresentation of a new Israeli bill requiring transparency by NGOs receiving foreign funds, the Obama administration has voiced ‘concern’ the legislation will erode Israel’s democracy.

The Obama administration voiced concern and opposition to a bill passed by the Knesset on Monday requiring Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) operating in Israel that receive most of their funding from foreign governments to be more transparent about their funding and activities, saying it may hinder Israel’s democracy.

The US is “very concerned about the potential impacts of this legislation – in particular, the chilling effect that this new law could have on NGO activities,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

“As the president has made clear, a free and functional civil society is essential, and governments must protect freedoms of expression, including dissent and association, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard,” he added.

The Obama administration has either misunderstood or is grossly misrepresenting the bill.

There are over 300 NGOs operating in Israel that are funded by foreign governments, primarily by the Europeans. These NGOs operate to influence Israel in various aspects and, in many cases, operate against the Jewish State. The new law limits their subversive activities.

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Foreign entities using their financial ties to Israeli groups to influence policy “is done to an unprecedented scope and in a way that undermines Israel’s sovereignty and undercuts the authority of an elected government,” Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, who authored the bill, wrote in the bill’s abstract.

The bill stipulates that any NGO primarily funded by foreign donations would need to state that fact clearly in its website, publications, reports, and formal communications with any public or government body. It also stipulates that such NGOs’ annual reports, and their communications with state bodies, would need to include the full details of their funding sources.

The bill does not in any way hinder or curtail NGOs’ actions, and only requires that they be forthcoming with the source of their funding.

The US has a similar law.

Shaked has previously met with US Ambassador in Israel Dan Shapiro to discuss the bill, and the bill was tailored to meet some of the American requirements. “Some of the issues that we were concerned about were addressed in the final version,” Kirby conceded.

The European Union (EU) condemned the law.

In a statement Tuesday, the EU said the new law goes “beyond the legitimate need for transparency,” and supposedly is “aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations working in Israel.”

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“Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear,” it added. “This new legislation risks undermining these values,” the EU claimed.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pushed for greater transparency of foreign-funded nonprofits, said the complaints were overblown and the law would have little impact.

“This law is strictly symbolic and political,” he said. “There are essentially no new restrictions” on NGO activities.

Steinberg said he believes the best solution would be for Israeli and European lawmakers to hold a dialogue and together set guidelines for how money should be spent.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News