Knesset Bill Would Expose Foreign Backers Of NGOs

Human rights groups say they are being unfairly targeted

04/07/10
Staff writer
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Concerned that some nonprofit groups in Israel are quietly being bankrolled by foreign political entities, seven Knesset members have introduced a bill to require that they immediately report receipt of such funds and publicly announce it in all written and oral political presentations.

“The legislation is designed to be similar to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, which means that organizations that get money from foreign governments - many of them get most of their money from Europeans - will have to make it public at the time they get it,” said Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor.

He said this has become such a “hot issue” in Israel “because of the intense role of [some of] these organizations in the campaign” to encourage divestment from Israel.

“Some of these organizations were active on 20 campuses in Canada and the U.S. during [the recent] Israel Apartheid Week,” Steinberg said. “They were funded both by European governments and the New Israel Fund [NIF].”

Naomi Chazan, NIF president, insisted that the proposed law is “totally redundant” because Israeli law “was just amended a couple of years ago to provide for transparency.”

The proposed law, she said, “tries to target human rights and civil rights groups and make them political.”

Steinberg pointed out that some of these groups don't register as a nonprofit but rather as a company, thereby skirting the reporting law. And he said that some of those that do register as an NGO or non-governmental organization wait years before reporting their foreign funding; the new law would require immediate reporting.

Chazan said “very few” nonprofits register as a company and that the “vast majority register as an NGO and are covered under the [existing] Amutot [nonprofit] Law.” But even those that register as companies “have to divulge their income as well.”

“This is superfluous,” he insisted.

Chazan was also upset that the proposed law would require nonprofits to “register as political parties, even though they are not running anyone for office. This would really put Israel in a very bad place in terms of democratic countries.

The issue came to the fore with the release earlier this year of the Goldstone Report by the United Nations that claimed both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in their war against each other last year.

Much of the report¹s criticism of Israel was based upon information provided by Israeli NGOs, some of which were funded by the NIF. Steinberg said.

One of the NIF-funded groups, Coalition of Women for Peace, runs a divestment program called Who Profits. It tracks corporations that Steinberg said “are directly involved in the occupation,” and he noted that it had a major role in divestment in Norway and is pressing a similar project in the United Kingdom.

Chazan said that because the Amutot Law prohibits nonprofits from taking any action that would seek to undermine the State of Israel, the women's group could be prosecuted now if it was found to be violating the law.

Naomi Paiss, a spokeswoman for the NIF, said the NIF is aware of the women's group's activities and that it is a “problem that we are discussing with them now.”

“They don't get core funding from us - they have not received a grant from us since 2006 - but they are on our donor advised list and individuals can give them money through us,” she said. “At the point Who Profits came to our attention, discussions were initiated.”

Paiss stressed that Israel is a democracy and that “in a democracy organizations do not have to march in lockstep with government policy or for that matter with their funders. If they are accomplishing positive social change on the ground and meet our rigorous standards for grant making they apply, and based on complicated decisions, they may get funding. We do have red lines. We do ask that groups share our values in support of democracy in Israel, which is what the Israeli government requires of Amutot, and we follow the Israeli government.”

As such, she added, her organization is against boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and it tells its groups “we think that is unproductive, inflammatory and a bad tactic. We will not fund any group for whom this is a substantial part of their activity, but we don¹t disqualify a group if they did it as something incidental.”

Thus, Paiss said, NIF did not take any action when its grantees Mossawa, Machsom Watch and CWP signed a letter last May to the Norwegian Government Pension Fund calling “upon the Norwegian people to join us in our efforts and to stop investing in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.”

“These were groups that signed onto a letter and have done nothing similar to that, as far as we are aware,” Paiss said.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said “most serious people have a right to expect that groups that distribute funds in Israel like the NIF have standards for those they give money to, like not advocating violence.”

But he said he is against countries trying to change the policy of another by funding groups whose views they support.

“If governments want to see change in Israel, they should try to initiate that change through diplomacy,” Foxman said. “Every country sets bilateral agreements about how they relate to each other. If Israel decided it didn't like the sexual equality laws of Norway and then funded organizations there that opposed those laws, it would be overstepping its diplomatic role.

It's one thing to support a library and bring in cultural events. But what if tomorrow Norway didn't like that Israel has a rabbinate. Is it going to fund a secular movement? That's interference in the internal affairs of a country.”

The ADL is a local nonprofit in Israel and its registration notes that it is an American organization, Foxman added.

 

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Last Update:

04/08/2010 - 12:57

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