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Knesset rejects bill authorizing NGO inquiries

(JTA) — Israel’s Knesset voted down a bill that would have established inquiries into human rights groups.

The bill fell in the parliament on Wednesday by a vote of 57 to 28 following hours of debate.

Two members of the governing coalition parties — Danny Danon of Likud and Faina Kirschenbaum of Yisrael Beitenu — sponsored the bill. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the Likud Party, opposed the measure.

U.S. Jewish groups had pressed the Knesset to reject the bill, seeing it as the latest in an assault on democratic freedoms by right-wing factions.

Netanyahu already was taking flack from U.S. Jewish groups for supporting a bill that allows settlers to sue those who call for a boycott of goods made in West Bank Jewish settlements.

"I will not be discouraged or give up," Danon said following the vote. "I will continue to put forth legislation that will seek to expose the influence of foreign funds on Israeli so-called ‘human rights’ organizations.  These organizations currently enjoy the protection of Israeli law, but at the same time work tirelessly to undermine the interests of the Jewish State."

The New Israel Fund, a U.S. fundraiser for many of the groups that would have been targeted by such inquiries, praised the bill’s rejection.

"Today’s decision in the Knesset to reject the bill to establish committees investigating Israeli human rights organizations is a welcome affirmation of Israel’s commitment to core democratic principles, a commitment that extremists in the current Knesset seem intent on challenging through one legislative initiative after another," the group said in a statement.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Wednesday during the debate that "those who vote in favor of this law will become voters against Israel. The evil spirits that have filled the Knesset are anti-democratic and violate the interests of the State of Israel."

Addressing the bill’s sponsors, she added that "this idea came about as a way to probe citizens who do not think like you."

The bill had passed its first reading by a vote of 41 to 16.

 

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