Proposal of New Bills to Further Curtail Civil Society in Israel
On Sunday, 13 November 2011, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted in favor of backing two private bills intended to restrict funding from “foreign state entities” to Israeli NGOs. 11 ministers voted in favor and 5 against. An appeal was made as part of the vote, and therefore the bills are expected to be brought for discussion by the government’s full assembly before they can proceed to a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum.
The first bill, officially titled “The Associations Law (Amendment – Banning Foreign Diplomatic Entities’ Support of Political Associations in Israel),” and proposed by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) attempts to set monetary limitations on Israeli human rights organizations. According to this bill, an Israeli NGO that seeks to influence state policies would not be allowed to receive donations of more than 20,000 NIS (roughly $5400) from foreign state entities. This bill enjoys the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The second bill, proposed by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) seeks to amend the Income Tax Order (Taxation of public institutions that receive donations from a foreign state entity) – 2011, so that funding from foreign state entities to Israeli NGOs will be subject to a 45% taxation rate (a percentage at least three times more than that imposed on profit-making organizations).
These two bills are an additional attempt to use foreign funding as a way to silence and curtail the work of civil society and human rights organizations whose agenda and/or activities differ from their political views. The bills are also part of a calculated policy to silence voices of dissent and criticism and go hand in hand with attempts to restrict Israel’s judicial system, media outlets and activists.
These two bills raise concerns regarding an orchestrated and widespread assault on the freedom of expression and opinion of human rights and peace organizations and Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders.
Following the assault on Gaza in 2009, there has been increased international pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Thus, voices of resistance within Israel, and the support and information they provide to international bodies and to the global peace movement, have become a strategic threat to the continued enforcement of the occupation. Silencing them has therefore become a primary goal for the Israeli government and Knesset and for right-wing movements within Israel.
In 2002, Israel signed a trade pact with the European Union; this agreement grants Israel breaks in customs duties and tightened cooperation between Israel and EU countries in the fields of economics, science, law, culture and society. In addition, Article 2 of the agreement stipulates that relations shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. Thus, by silencing organizations that promote transparency, public debate and accountability, Israel is in flagrant violation of this agreement.
On 10 November 2011, the HRA, together with 15 other human rights organizations issued a statement that asks the international community to voice its protest against these bills to the Israeli government and make statements to defend Israeli civil society organizations and their right to receive funding without restrictions.
Today, the HRA has also sent a letter to the EU and its member states requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the situation and has asked the EU to take a firm position regarding these bills and act quickly to prevent their enactment.
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