The international community must urgently call on Israeli authorities to withdraw a repressive proposed law that seeks to silence human rights groups says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
In what could set an extremely bad precedent, the regressive draft `Obligation to Disclose Support by a Foreign Political Entity Act’ passed its first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on 8 February when it garnered 50 votes in favour of and 43 against it.
“Every democratic country that subscribes to international human rights law should be extremely concerned by this bill,” said Teldah Mawarire, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “There are strong reasons to believe that this proposed law is specifically designed to stop the work of human rights groups, especially those that expose abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
The NGO Transparency Bill - first introduced in the Knesset in June 2015 – requires NGOs receiving more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments (and by implication their development agencies) to label themselves as ‘foreign agents’ and affix this discriminatory nomenclature on all their documents, including social media pages, web pages, publications, and signage. A steep official tax of 37% would also be imposed on such organisations.
Several human rights organisations have strongly condemned the Bill and some governments have publicly and privately expressed reservations about it. A group of 50 European Members of Parliament have written an open letter dubbing the bill as “inherently discriminatory” and “framed in a manner that demonises and delegitimises NGOs who promote and defend human rights as well as the European states and institutions that fund them.” To become law, the Bill needs to go through final drafting by a committee followed by a second and third vote by the Knesset.
Last year, in an anonymous interview, a human rights defender speaking about the environment for civil society in Israel told CIVICUS: “The overall environment of civil society in Israel is characterised by a different approach towards different organisations. On one hand, Israel provides a safe and enabling environment for many religious groups, humanitarian charities and educational organisations among others. On the other hand, organisations that are more critical towards specific policies of the state and those who are involved with advocacy, social justice and human rights issues (especially those dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues) receive a more hostile attitude from the authorities.” Labelling of human rights defenders and their organisations as ‘traitors’, ‘moles’ of foreign countries and ‘terrorists’ by prominent Israeli politicians is a major challenge in the country.
If passed, Israel’s NGO Transparency Bill would join the ranks of Russia’s Foreign Agents Law and Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation which have not only severely emasculated independent civil society in their respective countries but also spawned regressive clone legislation in their neighbouring countries and beyond.
CIVICUS appeals to the international community to urge Israel’s government to end its persecution of independent civil society groups and withdraw its support for the draft Obligation to Disclose Support by a Foreign Political Entity Act.