Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he will work to promote a bill proposal for increased monitoring of NGOs, but without a controversial clause requiring NGO representatives to identify as such.
"I do not understand how a requirement for transparency is anti-democratic; the opposite is true. In a democratic regime, we need to know who is financing such NGOs, from the Right, the Left, up or down; financing by governments is certainly something the public should know about," Netanyahu said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting. "What needs to be done is adopt the norms accepted by the US House of Representatives."
The prime minister said he would make two changes to the proposal: "First, to drop the demand that representatives of these NGO's wear tags in the Knesset – this is unnecessary. Second, to require reports about the first shekel or dollar from foreign governments."
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who proposed the legislation, declined to comment on Netanyahu's statements.
The Transparency Law (also known as the NGOs Law) was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs last month.
The legislative proposal seeks to increase transparency in NGOs and public-benefit corporations which receive most of their funding from other countries. However, the bill would not apply to NGOs funded by private foreign donors, which has led to outrage in the opposition.
The bill requires NGOs who receive more than half of their funding from other countries to make a note of this in publications and reports released to the public. These NGOs will also have to state that fact in any inquiry made to an elected public representative or public official, as well as in discussions of public nature. The NGOs will be required to state the names of the countries that donated to them and the years the donations were made.
The original proposal also seeks to impose on representatives of these NGOs the same rules that apply to lobbyists at the Knesset, including wearing an identity badge detailing the name of the person and the NGO they represent. Representatives found without such a badge will have their entry permit to the Knesset revoked.
NGOs failing to comply with the new legislation will receive a fine of up to NIS 29,200.
"I actually believe the meddling of foreign countries in the regime and policies of another country is the real danger to democracy," Shaked said last month. "It cannot be that the EU contributes to NGOs acting on behalf of the State of Israel when in fact they are being used as a tool by foreign countries to implement their own policies."
After the US Embassy in Israel released statements opposing the proposed legislation, Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week, "I fail to understand how greater transparency is anti-democratic. I think it's the most obvious request in any democracy."
He argued that the legislation in the US is much stricter, requiring NGOs to report every dollar in foreign donations.
The European Union also expressed reservations about the legislation, with officials in the EU saying that "Israel should be very careful about reigning in its prosperous democratic society with laws that are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes."