Israeli Knesset approves controversial law targeting foreign-government funding for NGOs

Press release
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On July 11, 2016, the Knesset approved its so-called “NGO Transparency Law”. This law requires NGOs registered in Israel that receive 50% or more of their funding from foreign government entities to report to the NGO registrar and to mention such funding in all their official letters and publications. The fine for violating the law would be up to NIS 29,000 (almost EUR 6,800).

As adopted, the law would in effect discriminatingly target non-governmental organisations (NGOs) critical of government policy and in particular human rights NGOs, which receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments. 25 of the 27 organisations to which the Justice Ministry said the law would apply are human rights NGOs. By specifically applying to donations from foreign governments, the NGO Transparency Law de facto exempts right-wing organisations that receive most of their funding from private (local and international) sources from the obligation of reporting and publicity.

The Observatory fears that the legislation that was passed seeks to undermine and de-legitimize the work of prominent human rights organisations in Israel, which monitor, among other issues, human rights violations against Palestinians.

“This NGO Transparency Law clearly targets peaceful dissent groups and seeks to restrict the legitimate activities of civil society and human rights defenders in Israel. The law violates international human rights standards of freedom of association enshrined in the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Israel.”

FIDH President Karim Lahidji

The legislative move comes amid increased repression of Israeli and Palestinian organisations that denounce the detrimental human rights impact of the occupation of the Palestinian Territory. In particular, the NGO Transparency Law came after unprecedented smear campaigns by right-wing groups and branding Israeli human rights defenders as “foreign agents” and “traitors”.

“Israeli society used to be proud that it provides the space to act for human rights organisations as a natural part of being a democratic State. Sadly, the statements by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked show that human rights work is now seen as a foreign interest. This is not about transparency or financing. This is about human rights work because it displeases. Nowhere is this more evident than in the differential treatment of pro-settlement groups and human rights work.”

OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock

Several groups, including the EU Commission and representatives of foreign States, have criticised the NGO Transparency Law, emphasizing that it contributes to a climate in which human rights organisations are increasingly de-legitimised. UN Special Rapporteurs on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of association, and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders stated on June 24, 2016 that the proposed law, “has the evident intent of targeting human rights and civil rights organizations, which receive a majority of their funding from foreign government entities, while leaving unaffected other organizations that nonetheless receive a substantial amount of foreign funding from individuals”.

Under the pretext of increasing transparency, the NGO Transparency Law seeks to hamper the activities of organisations critical of the government’s policies. By complicating the space in which civil society organisations operate, the new law seeks to impose restrictions on freedoms of expression and association in Israel.

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