US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked met on Sunday to discuss contentious draft legislation to toughen rules on Israeli rights groups which receive the majority of their funds from abroad.
Shapiro sought to receive more information regarding the controversial bill after US officials last week expressed concerns about the dangers it could pose to a “free and functioning civil society.”
If the initiative is successful, Israeli non-governmental organizations which get at least half of their funding from "foreign state entities" will be obliged to identify donors on their financial statements and in official statements to Israeli public bodies.
It would also compel staff of such NGOs to wear special identity tags when appearing in front of parliamentary committees, as is currently the case with paid lobbyists.
"The ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society", the embassy said in a press release.
"He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard," the statement added.
Shapiro said he "deeply appreciated the respectful and productive discussion" with Shaked, and they agreed to continue their dialogue on this and other issues of mutual concern.
The US embassy in Tel Aviv also sought to clarify a statement by State Department spokesman John Kirby regarding the difference between the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and the draft Israeli NGO law after Shaked drew comparisons between the two laws in an op-ed last week.
Shaked wrote that the requirements of the bill she proposed “are much less stringent than those imposed by the United States,” prompting the Obama administration to reject the comparison.
“They’re two different things altogether,” Kirby told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency without going into detail.
"U.S. law imposes no limits, restrictions, or transparency requirements for the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans," the embassy said.
"FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity."
"As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law," the statement added.
The American Jewish Committee last week also expressed concerns about the bill.
“The proposed solution poses as many risks as the problem itself, including the risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost,” the AJC said in a statement Tuesday.
This article was originally published on i24News.