50 Members of the European Parliament penned a letter to Israeli MKs urging them to vote against the NGO Transparency Bill, claiming that it “delegitimisess” and “demonises” left-wing NGOs.
The open letter was published last night ahead of the bill’s first reading in the Knesset, which passed by 50 votes to 43 against.
The bill, spearheaded by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), would require all Israeli NGOs who receive 50% or more of their funding to maintain full transparency on their sources of funding. Supporters of the bill tout it as a way to defend Israeli democracy and sovereignty against efforts by foreign state actors to illegitimately undermine or actively oppose Israeli government decisions.
Though it applies in theory to all NGOs regardless of political hue, in practice only left-wing NGOs – in many cases groups which openly negate Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – receive significant funding from foreign state entities, most notably from the European Union. Unsurprisingly, the bill has triggered an outcry from leftist NGOs and their foreign – primarily European – backers.
In the letter, signed by MEPs spanning EU member-states, the European legislators said they spoke “as Members of the European Parliament, who are committed to values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression, to convey our deep concern at the proposed ‘NGO Bill’.”
“We support transparency in the conduct of public affairs in any democracy,” the letter continued. “However, we are concerned that this law is inherently discriminatory. It is framed in a manner that delegitimises and demonises NGOs who promote and defend human rights, as well as the European states and institutions that fund them.”
It went on to claim that left-wing NGOs “already publish their sources of funding,” while in their words “Nationalist NGOs” do not, as they are funded by individuals rather than state actors.
“We see this as part of a worrying trend, promoted and condoned by the current Israeli government, to restrict, delegitimise, and stifle the work of NGOs, organisations, artists, writers, and thinkers who may be critical of current Israeli government policy,” they added.
“We strongly urge you, Israeli Members of Knesset, to be brave and strong in upholding Israel’s pluralist democratic values, and share our view that a vibrant civil society and open public debate… are not a threat to democracy, but a great strength.”
As noted, most MKs rejected their call, opting instead to approve the bill’s first reading.
A further look at the letter’s signatories reveals one good reason for that, though MKs (if they even read it) may not have taken the time to check. Despite choosing to invoke Israel’s “pluralistic democratic values,” and lamenting what they termed a campaign of “delegitimisation,” more than half of the MEPs involved – most of whom are from far-left parties – have in the past openly advocated boycotting the State of Israel, including 29 who in February 2015 signed a call to the EU to severe its trade association agreement with Israel.
These include Irish MEP Martina Anderson MEP – who chairs the “Palestine committee” within the EU Parliament;
Ironically, such a double-game by avowedly anti-Israel European legislators provides an illustration of precisely the dynamics which supporters of the Transparency Bill accuse foreign EU donors of employing in funding extremist NGOs in Israel: using the cover of ostensibly pro-Israel rhetoric to further a notably anti-Israel agenda.
Two more readings remain for it to be passed as law, which at this point appears likely.