Promoted by the relentless Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and supported by Prime Minister Netanyahu, from Monday night onward, the “NGOs law,” also known as the “Transparency Law,” is part of the Israeli legal code.
After months of discussions, the right-wing executive power has got what it wanted: Starting in 2017, NGOs primarily financed from abroad will have to specify the source and amount of donations received. They will also report these donations in their publications and in communications with state officials. If they do not comply, they will be fined. The goal, says Netanyahu, is to avoid an “absurd” situation in which foreign countries interfere in the internal affairs of Israel through its domestic civil society.
The law does not explicitly refer to the left. But, in fact, it is targeting more than 20 progressive NGOs and associations that deal with human rights, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories, that assist migrants and refugees, or promote equality between Jews and Arabs. This includes historical organizations such as B’Tselem, Acre, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, Hamoked, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. These NGOs receive funds mainly from abroad, often thanks to the European Union sending money toward the field of human rights.
Those on the right, close to the ruling party that supports colonization and occupation, on the other hand, will not be affected by the “need for transparency,” for the simple reason that they get most of their funding from private institutions.
The goals of the new law are so clear that even the moderate Labour leader Isaac Herzog referred to the “buds of fascism blooming in Israel.” The head of the United Arab List, Ayman Odeh, accused the Netanyahu government of trying to “intimidate and eliminate the few organizations that act and fight in the public sphere to ensure equality for Arab citizens.” Peace Now added that the law “delegitimizes the organizations of the left, while pro-settler groups receive millions of dollars with no transparency.” According to Human Rights Watch, “if the Israeli government is really concerned about transparency, it should inform the public of the funding sources of all NGOs and not just those that criticize the policies of the executive.”
Foreign parties have registered their protest, especially the European Union, which was repeatedly called into question by the Israeli right during the long debate that led to the approval of the law. The E.U. said it understands “the legitimate need for transparency” and highlights what it calls the “vibrant Israeli democracy.” At the same time it said the law will limit the activities of many NGOs.
Shaked went on military radio to dismiss any political motivations and accused foreign-funded NGOs of “denigrating the army.” “In any case,” the minister said, “we do not intend to lower our head to the European Union’s press release.”
From the right, there have only been positive reviews of the new law. The most extremist organizations explain that this change will strike at those “working for foreign powers,” which use information and reports of leftist NGOs to attack Israel at the U.N. and in other international forums. This is a veiled reference to B’Tselem, one of the best known Israeli centers for human rights, and Breaking the Silence, which collects testimonies from soldiers about war crimes and abuses in the Occupied Territories.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, hundreds of settlers and political activists of the radical right visited the Mosque Square in Jerusalem, which for the Jews corresponds to the biblical Temple Mount, one of the sites with the highest political and religious tension. Among the “tourists,” as they’re usually described by the Netanyahu government, were the parents of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, the Jewish girl stabbed and killed about two weeks ago by a Palestinian in her home in the Kiryat Arba settlement, in Hebron.
“Our daughter’s heart was stabbed. We are strengthening the nation’s heart. … This is the nation’s heart,” said Rina Ariel, the mother of the murdered girl, referring to the movement of settlers who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Also Tuesday, a young Israeli Arab, possibly a Bedouin, entered Gaza through the Khan Yunes town. This is the third such case in the last two years. Previously a Jew of Ethiopian origin and another Bedouin entered Gaza voluntarily. Hamas demands Israel to free hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners for their release.