Israeli law forces human rights groups to report foreign funding

JERUSALEM, July 12 (UPI) — Israel’s parliament approved a law Tuesday mandating special reporting requirements of non-governmental organizations, sparking criticism of what some consider one-sided legislation.

The law, its final form approved 57-48 by the Knesset, demands that NGOs in Israel receiving more than half their funds from foreign state sources disclose that fact or face a fine. Of the 27 NGOs identified by the Justice Ministry as qualifying, 25 are human rights groups identified with Israel’s leftist political parties. While the government defends the law as increasing transparency, critics maintain it unfairly targets left-wing groups, many of which receive funding from Europe.

“The reporting requirements imposed by the new law go beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations working in Israel. 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. This new legislation risks undermining these values,” a European Union statement said.

The German government said in a statement it is “concerned about the legislation’s one-sided focus on financial support from governmental donations. For private donors, which are very significant in Israel, there are no transparency regulations. The Federal Government is also concerned about the domestic political climate in Israel in which this law came to being, and about the increasingly polarized debate about the work of nongovernmental organizations in Israel.”

The New Israel Fund, which underwrites many of Israel’s NGOs, said the bill “targets organizations working for human rights and democracy, while allowing ultranationalist organizations to keep their sources of funding hidden.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the bill, saying it will “prevent an absurd situation in which foreign countries meddle in the internal affairs of Israel.”

Justice Minister Ayelet told the Knesset, “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.”

Some European legislators voiced their opposition to the bill and warned it could undermine relations with Europe, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said.

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