The controversial NGO bill aimed at curtailing the activities of anti-Israeli groups in Israel passed a major hurdle on Sunday after being approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. However, the bill still faces considerable opposition on several fronts.
The bill, sponsored by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Robert Ilatov (Likud-Beytenu), would force any nongovernmental organization operating in Israel to pay a tax of 45 percent on contributions from political groups outside Israel if it calls for a boycott of Israel, the trying of Israel Defence Forces' personnel in international tribunals, if it incites to racism or supports the armed struggle carried out by Israel's enemies or by anti-Israeli terrorist groups.
The preamble to the bill states that, if passed, it will "limit foreign political entities' ability to interfere with the Israeli democracy through financial backing of non-governmental organizations whose goals or actions are a brazen attempt to meddle in Israel's democratic discourse and wield undue influence on Israel's democratic underpinnings and its sovereignty while inflicting substantial damage."
Likud-Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi ministers voted in favor of the bill, with Yesh Atid and Hatnuah ministers opposed.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah), who heads the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, said she would file an appeal with the committee. The appeal essentially ensures the bill will not be forwarded to the Knesset plenum for a preliminary reading.
"This is a populist piece of legislation that is masquerading as a patriotic bill. It shows no understanding of the complexity of the world we live in, and it would therefore compromise Israel's ability to defend IDF soldiers in international tribunals," Livni said Sunday.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is one of the opponents of the bill.
"It infringes on a series of constitutional rights, chiefly the freedom of expression and the freedom of association," Weinstein said.
According to Weinstein, the proposed tax is "a fine of sorts, a punitive measure that is designed to stifle contributions to these NGOs and thus compromise the free discourse in the State of Israel."
Weinstein stressed that laws that impose restrictions on contributions and the freedom of expression in civil society are common in "a number of countries with which Israel may not want to associate itself nor be among their ranks." He stressed that such laws are occasionally manifested through human rights violations. Weinstein said similar things on Monday, warning that the bill would result in Israel being subject to "libelous claims." He said there was a good chance that the bill would ultimately be shelved.
The approval of the bill elicited responses from politicians across the political spectrum.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said the "government is muzzling others; it is annihilating civil society organizations that criticize the government."
"The real goal of the NGO bill is to incite against the pro-peace organizations and human-rights groups and to compromise the contributions to organizations whose world view is different from to the settlers' world view and that of the right-wing government. The bill will turn Israel into a pariah state and an outcast among Western, developed nations," Gal-On said.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) echoed Gal-On, saying that the "ministerial committee's greenlighting of a bill that is against the pro-democracy and pro-peace NGOs dovetails the actions against the Bedouin and the African asylum seekers and the homophobic declarations from last week. This tainted spate of events requires a coalition of diverging groups that would join hands in the defense of democracy."
Yesh Atid faction leader MK Ofer Shelach said: "This bill smacks of cowardice. It will inflict much greater damage on Israel than the damage inflicted by the small and ephemeral voices that it seeks to fight. The true test of freedom of expression is where the voices of opposition are particularly dissenting, and a democracy that is sure of itself can deal with what is said against it. It does not silence others using artificial means."
Ilatov, the bill's co-sponsor and acting coalition chairman, defended the proposed legislation, saying, "It is just unacceptable to let Israeli NGOs extract benefits from the state and then receive support form organizations whose sole purpose is to meddle in the Israeli democracy and hurt Israel's national and security interests."
Habayit Hayehudi MKs also voiced support for the bill, with one lawmaker saying, "It will help IDF soldiers counter frivolous lawsuits that are backed by foreign funds."
"The motion to appeal by Livni is irresponsible," the MK said. "Every day that goes by without enacting the bill hurts IDF soldiers and puts them at a greater risk. Livni would be well-served by checking her political considerations at the door and refraining from hindering the bill's passage."