NGO law: US ambassador meets Israel justice minister to voice ‘concerns’


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, met with Israel’s justice minister and expressed reservations about her proposed law requiring NGOs to prominently announce substantial foreign funding.

“Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the minister, and noted the U.S. government’s concerns on the matter,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement describing the meeting Sunday between Shapiro and Ayelet Shaked.

“The ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society,” the statement said. “He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”

Separately, the U.S. Embassy on Monday released a statement outlining differences between Shaked’s proposed law and the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, the law that requires lobbyists for foreign entities to register and which has stricter reporting requirements than those for domestic lobbyists.

Shaked has defended her law, which would require NGOs that receive more than half their money from foreign governments to declare they do so in any public interaction, by comparing it to FARA.

“As a general matter, U.S. law imposes no limits, restrictions, or transparency requirements on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans,” the embassy statement said. “In contrast, the draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities.

“That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works. FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”

Shaked said she appreciated Shapiro’s concern, but that worries about Israel’s democracy were overstated.

“I was happy to meet with the American ambassador, and I came away believing that their concern is genuine,” the Times of Israel quoted her as saying. “But they don’t have to worry. Israel is a strong and lively democracy, one that doesn’t need the intervention of other states in internal legislation.”

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