J Street Deeply Concerned by Knesset’s Passage of Anti-NGO Legislation

July 12, 2016

J Street is deeply concerned by the Knesset’s passage of a one-sided bill that targets and penalizes many progressive non-governmental organizations. While the bill ostensibly aims to enforce transparency with regard to foreign funding of NGOs, it is clear that its true purpose is to marginalize and punish groups that work to monitor human rights and oppose the occupation.

Turning a blind eye to the many right-wing NGOs that rely heavily on funding from private foreign donors, the bill is designed only to impact organizations whose work is funded by foreign governments. According to Israel’s Justice Ministry, 25 of the 27 groups that will be subject to stringent new reporting requirements are human rights groups identified with the left. As the Association for Civil Rights in Israel observed today, the bill’s “real goal is to delegitimize organizations whose activities are not welcomed by the political majority and to harm their capacity to operate.”

J Street has strongly opposed this measure since it was first proposed last year, as have European governments and senior parliamentarians, and many American Jewish organizations including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League and the New Israel Fund.

Israel’s closest friends around the world and in the American Jewish community have made clear that this bill does not live up to the standards Israel has set for itself as a liberal democracy. While we note that, thanks in part to heavy public criticism and scrutiny, the bill has been moderated from its original form, it still amounts to a crackdown on dissent that has come increasingly to typify the policy and rhetoric of the current government.

The use of targeted legislation to intimidate and restrict the work of these groups undermines a key pillar of Israeli civil society. Unfortunately, this bill appears to be just one component of a larger trend in Israeli politics towards the demonization of groups and individuals who seek to challenge the ongoing occupation and settlement movement, and to advance the causes of tolerance and peace. We hope that the many opponents of this trend within Israel will continue to do everything they can to call attention to it, to combat it and to reverse it.

We will continue to stand up for the shared democratic values that form the backbone of the US-Israel relationship, and to make clear that actions like this do serious damage to Israel’s international reputation while moving it down the wrong path. We urge the US administration to make clear to the Israeli government its own concerns with regard to this disturbing legislation.