Monday, November 14, 2011

Opposition Grows To Israeli NGO Bill

An Israeli Knesset committee approved yesterday two bills which would restrict foreign funding of "political" NGOs in Israel. The bill is widely considered to be targeted at left-wing NGOs such as the New Israel Fund and B'Tselem. A similar measure came before the Knesset this past July and failed.

One major difference between the last time the Israeli far right floated a similar bill and this time is that public opposition to the bill has been much higher this time around. In July, the measure was condemned by Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni and Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz the same day the measure was defeated.

In contract, Livni today called the measure "Draconian" and Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovitch accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of "destroying Israel's strongholds of democracy." The United States and the European Union have also exerted pressure against the bill, and the EU's ambassador to Israel said passage of the bill could "hurt Israel's standing in the West as a democratic country." An Israeli NGO called "We Will Not Be Silent" has also released a graphic which is being posted widely on Facebook by centrist, leftist, and far-left Israelis:

Translation:
Welcome
To the Government of Israel
For its participation in the exclusive club of nations that impose limits on international financing of not-for-profit organizations.
Sincerely,
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Belarus, and China


The protests of the domestic and international community against the bill indicates an incontrovertible shift in the balance of political power in Israel. In July, the voice of Israeli opposition was almost non-existent. Today it is considerably more vocal, in the wake of two major events. First, this summer's housing protest movement showed that the Israeli government was not necessarily representative of the mainstream Israeli public. It also gave this public a sense of agency and a voice. Secondly, the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN demonstrated to Israelis the very real cost of Israel's diplomatic isolation and magnifies the importance of concern from the international community over the bill.

As with the last time around, PM Netanyahu will likely play a shrewd political game, and the bill will likely be defeated. However, the political salience of the issue this time is higher than before, meaning that its political impacts on the current governing coalition, and Israel as a whole, will be magnified.

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