Bills limiting NGO funding pass Knesset committee

JERUSALEM (JTA) – A Knesset committee approved two bills that would impose restrictions on foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

The bills approved Sunday in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by a vote of 11 to 5 will be brought in the coming days to the full Knesset for a preliminary reading.

One bill, introduced by Likud lawmaker Ofir Akunis, would ban political organizations in Israel from receiving donations of more than approximately $5,500 from foreign governments and international organizations. The second, initiated by Fania Kirshenbaum of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, would tax the organizations at a rate of 45 percent on all revenue provided by a foreign government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly supports both bills.

The bills apparently are targeting the human rights groups that provided information to the Goldstone Commission, which investigated the monthlong Gaza War that began in December 2008.

Israeli human rights groups, which rely heavily on donations from foreign governments, are likely to be most affected by the legislation.

"These two bills are a severe affront to Israel’s democratic character and part of a larger effort on the part of specific MKs to curtail the work of human rights and social change organizations whose agenda and/or activities differ from their political views," The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a position paper distributed twice to lawmakers before the vote.

In a statement released Sunday, the New Israel Fund said that it is "dismayed and disappointed that legislation defunding Israel’s progressive civil society passed the Cabinet today with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s support. Despite widespread condemnation of these measures specifically designed to destroy Israel’s progressive NGO community, the Cabinet’s dedication to Israeli democracy seems to be only a hasbara sound bite, now sacrificed to fear of dissent and political expediency."
 

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