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Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Supportive but silent? Photo: Flash 90
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Supportive but silent? Photo: Flash 90
 
 

'Foreign funding bills our death sentence'

Bills seeking to limit left wing organizations could see many non-profit organizations lose majority of funding, resources. Legislation 'damaging to quality of Israeli democracy, tolerance in society,' says organization chief

Ynet reporters
Published: 11.14.11, 11:10 / Israel News

The right wing parties may have sought to constrain the left wing but their move could damage many social activities: The non-profit sector is concerned that the foreign funding bills approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation could harm the activities of a long line of human rights and social organizations.

 

Dr. Nissan Limor, head of the Institute for Civic Responsibility at the College for Academic Studies and head of the Van Leer Forum for the Third Sector, told Ynet Monday that "donations from abroad constitute two-thirds of the sum total of donations to the sector and non-profit organizations."

 

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According to Limor, "it doesn't just hurt the associations that will now suffer from lack of resources, it is also damaging to the quality of Israeli democracy and tolerance in Israeli society."

 


נתניהו עם שריו. יכול להעלות את הנושא בממשלה גם בעוד שנה (צילום: EPA)

Netanyahu and his cabinet (Photo: EPA)

 

The Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs on Sunday approved two bills which will hurt Israel's leftist organizations. The bill initiated by MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu) proposes denying certain groups of their tax-exempt status and collecting 45%, while another proposal seeks to limit donations from foreign government and bodies to NIS 20,000 a year.

 

Eleven ministers voted in favor of the bills, five opposed and two abstained. Ministers Michael Eitan, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin filed an appeal in order to hold a cabinet vote on the matter. Minister Simhon and Noked joined their initiative claiming the bill had a "silencing quality."

 

'Cave under pressure'

Before the deliberations over the bills, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support, yet on Sunday he remained silent. Officials who are opposed to the law said that in the next few days Netanyahu will understand the true meaning of the bills.

 

"He won't be able to support them. We hope that it will cave under pressure and that the bill will not pass as is," one officials said. Netanyahu does not have to present the cabinet with the vote immediately – he can do it in one year's time, as well.

 

The New Israel Fund, an organization that funds a number of social organizations, estimated that the foreign funding given to social organizations and associations makes up 50% of their total budget.

 

Giora Rosen, Chairman of the Israeli Civic Leadership Association (ICLA) – an umbrella organization for not-for-profit organizations in Israel, expressed his concern over the decision: "The non-profit organizations at a fundamental part of Israeli society and a majority of them are funded by donations. The government decision against foreign funding could easily come to include Israeli donors."

 

According to Rosen, "there is no doubt that hurting the organizations funding will remain unanswered by donating states and we may end up facing a reality where non-profit, cultural, education and community organizations are swept away with the law."

 

"Sister" is a Mizrahi feminist organization with an annual budget of $300,000, a third of which comes from European funds. Shula Keshet, the organization's Executive Director, told Ynet that "if the bill passes I don't know if our organization will survive, the criteria according to which the law will filter the organizations remains unknown."

 

Keshet stressed that should it become necessary they will petition the High Court.

 

'Countries we would not like to emulate'

Kav LaOved (the Worker's Hotline) has an annual budget of NIS 3 million ($810,000) a third of which comes from the European Union. The organization claims the new legislation could be "devastating" for them.

 

Ron Pundak, former Director General of the Peres Center for Peace said that bills are a real threat to the center's existence. "This is a death sentence to the Peres Center, it could destroy it. The center lives off projects with Palestinians – if there are no projects, there is no center."

 

Professor Yedidia Stern, the Vice President of the Israel Democracy Institute at the Bar Ilan University Law School, noted that "this legislation was accepted in countries we do not wish to emulate, like Russia. Its purpose is to silence criticism of the rule of law."

 

Stern believes that weakening human rights organizations in Israel could in fact spur forward international efforts to take legal action against IDF officers outside of Israel.

 

"Actually, these organizations contribute to legitimizing Israel as a country that honors international law and the rights of its minorities."

 

Omri Efraim, Naama Cohen-Friedman, Attila Somfalvi, Tomer Velmer, Gilad morag and Avigail Lushi contributed to the report

 

 

 

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