Anti-settler groups say new Israeli law targets them

 

McClatchy Newspapers

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has thrown its support behind a series of bills that left-wing political groups say are intended to weaken them by severely limiting their funding.

Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bills on Sunday, effectively ensuring that they would pass into law by throwing the majority support of the ruling coalition behind them.

One bill, introduced by a Likud lawmaker, would ban political organizations in Israel from receiving donations of more than $5,000 from foreign governments and other international groups. Another bill, by the Israeli Beiteinu party, would tax organizations at a rate of 45 percent on all revenue provided by foreign governments.

The bills' impact would fall mostly on groups that often are viewed as having a pro-Palestinian agenda, because those groups are most likely to receive funding from non-Israeli sources.

Limor Livnat, a minister from Netanyahu's Likud party, accused Great Britain, the European Union and others of "meddling" in Israeli affairs and said the bills were intended to prevent them from using Israeli groups to influence Israel's foreign policy or internal politics.

"It's not enough that the British and the EU send money to NGOs and use them to intervene in Israel's affairs," Livant said, referring to the groups by the acronym for non-governmental organizations. "Now they want to be involved in our legislation? It's unacceptable that foreign countries will intervene in what happens here, a state that is fighting for its existence."

The United States and Canada have both urged Netanyahu to scrap the legislation, stating that it harms Israel's standing as a democratic country. Mathew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel, told Netanyahu the legislation "reflects badly" on Israel, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The United States and Canada both fund Israeli nonprofit groups. Individual European countries, including Denmark, Belgium and Spain, as well as Great Britain are also major backers of Israeli non-governmental organizations.

Several Israeli lawmakers have criticized the legislation, especially in light of the criticism voiced from the U.S. and Europe.

"We will fight Netanyahu's draconian laws," said opposition leader Tzipi Livni. "This is an attempt to turn Israel into a dark ... dictatorship."

There's little doubt that the law will have a staggering impact on some of the organizations best known for working against groups that favor Israeli settlement of the West Bank and that monitor anti-Palestinian activities. Such groups rely heavily on donations from foreign governments.

This fiscal year the British government donated more than $142,000 to Peace Now's Settlement Watch program, while the Britain-based Christian Aid group donates more than $300,000 per year to organizations like B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights and the Association for Civil Rights, all of which monitor abuses of Palestinian rights.

Peace Now, perhaps the best known critic of Israeli settlement policy, receives 34 percent of its budget from foreign sources, while Physicians for Human Rights receives 80 percent of its donations from outside Israel.

"The bills have been narrowly targeted to groups that the government does not support or appreciate," said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli group devoted to promoting free movement for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that would be affected by the new bills.

Bashi said that the wording of bills specified "civil society organizations engaging in policy work and in public debate." By excluding groups that receive funding from the Israeli government or from private donors, the bill allows many right-wing groups to continue to receive funding from those sources.

"Pro-settlement groups get funds from mostly private sources, so they are excluded, and most of the pro-Israel groups will get some funding from the government, and so they are excluded," Bashi said. "They have made sure that the only groups this really affects are those engaged in what they consider left-wing causes."

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also has criticized the bills and called them " part of a larger effort ... to curtail the work of human rights and social change organizations whose agenda and/or activities differ" from that of the government.

Over the summer, laws were passed that made it a criminal offense to call for a boycott of Israel or its settlements, or to mark the Palestinian naqba, or "catastrophe," as the Palestinians refer to the establishment of the state of Israel.

On Monday, Netanyahu's Likud party submitted a bill that would change the framework of the panel that designates Supreme Court justices in a way opponents claim will strengthen the influence of conservative parties.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Palestinians concede that bid for U.N. statehood will fail

For many Israeli 'settlers,' their suburban home is just a place to live

Shalit's condition leaves Israel second-guessing delay in his release

Follow McClatchy on Twitter.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Friends surround Melquin Merchan, an 18-year-old painter from Aracataca, as he paints a portrait of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in front of the house where the Nobel laureate was born in Aracataca, Colombia, Friday, April 18, 2014. Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87 in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Colombia hopes to share Garcia Marquez remains

    The final resting place for the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez remains unclear. It could be Mexico where he lived for decades or his native Colombia. Perhaps even both.

  •  
FILE - In this file photo taken May 21, 2011, miners work at a legal mining concession in Huaypetue, Madre de Dios, Peru. Government efforts to halt illegal mining have mostly been futile. The miners already have been clashing with police while intermittently blocking traffic on the commercially vital interoceanic highway that links the Pacific coast with Brazil. But officials insist this time they’re serious about combatting the multi-billion-dollar illegal mining trade that accounts for about 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports.

    Deadline lapses in Peru for illegal gold miners

    The clock has run out for an estimated 40,000 illegal gold miners who had until Saturday to legalize their status in a region of southeastern Peru where fortune-seekers have ravaged rainforests and contaminated rivers. The government's vow to enforce a ban on illegal mining is raising fears of bloody confrontations.

  •  
Damaged buses are seen at the scene of an explosion at a bus park in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April. 14, 2014. Suspected Islamic militants struck at the heart of Nigeria with a massive rush-hour explosion at a bus station Monday that killed 71, with the toll expected to rise in the deadliest attack yet on the nation’s capital.

    Islamic militants claim this week's Nigeria blast

    Islamic extremists Saturday claimed responsibility for the massive rush-hour explosion earlier this week that ripped through a busy bus station in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, killing at least 75 people and wounding 141.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category