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Israel’s NGO Bill Protects, Rather than Threatens, Democracy, by Gerald Steinberg (Lawfare via Mosaic)

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Jan. 8, 2016

Currently before the Israeli Knesset is a bill demanding greater transparency from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) about their sources of funding. The bill has generated controversy in Israel and led the American press to invoke comparisons with Russian and Turkish regulations intended to crush political dissent. Not only do these comparisons miss the mark by a wide margin, writesGerald Steinberg, but the bill is in fact necessary to preserve Israel’s functioning as a democracy:

The legislation proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, . . . would designate NGOs whose income is largely from external governments as foreign agents. Presented as an extension of existing transparency regulations, it would require a note in NGO publications, letters to public officials, and protocols of testimony in Knesset committees listing foreign government funders. . . . The most important aspect of the bill is the symbolism conveyed by the “foreign-agent” designation, particularly in Israel, where sovereignty and self-determination are taken seriously.

In this sense, the proposed legislation is similar in spirit and purpose to the U.S. Foreign-Agent Registration Act (1938), and the rules adopted last year by the House of Representatives. . . .

Although NGOs have always been significant actors in Israeli politics and society, in the past fifteen years a network of about 30 groups claiming to promote human rights and peace have received large grants from the European Union and individual governments. The scale of this funding, with annual budgets upward of $1 million, as well as [these organizations’] extreme secrecy and impact, are unique; there are no parallels in relations among democracies.

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