November 14, 2011; Source: New York Times | Two bills that would limit the contributions that foreign governments can give to human rights groups in Israel were backed on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. One of the bills would limit such contributions to $5,000, and the other would significantly tax such contributions. Widely seen as an attempt to curtail funding to left wing groups, the measure is being viewed with dismay by the European Union. The New York Times reports that “The bills were largely aimed at groups that focus on Palestinian rights, civil liberties and other causes advocated by the Israeli left, many of which rely on European government support.” Right wing groups tend, according to this article, to be funded by private groups and individuals.
Apparently these measures, which may not pass legal scrutiny, flow in part from government irritation about a United Nations report published two years ago, which accused Israel of war crimes in its 2008 invasion of Gaza. The report was seen as having received support from Israeli NGOs supported at least in part by foreign governments.
Members of the European Union are reportedly concerned about the “anti-democratic nature” of the bills, suggesting that it is an attempt to shut out civil society. As reported by Haaretz.com, “The office of the EU in Israel has also approached the embassies of three non-EU countries—the United States, Canada and Norway—to coordinate the diplomatic response that Israel receives.” NPQ would like to humbly suggest that such attempts to gag the civil sector seldom work and often just further solidify resolve. —Ruth McCambridge