Israel cabinet OKs bills to curb donations to rights groups
TEL AVIV //The Israeli cabinet yesterday approved two bills that would significantly curb the ability of Israeli human-rights groups to draw upon foreign funding, in a move criticised by activists as a bid to stifle left-wing dissent.
A ministerial committee passed legislation that would prevent not-for-profit groups from obtaining donations amounting to more than 20,000 shekels (Dh19,740) a year from foreign countries or organisations such as the United Nations or European Union.
It also gave the green light to legislation that would force non-governmental organisations to pay a 45 per cent tax rate on all donations from foreign countries. Until now, the associations had enjoyed tax exemption on such money.
The bills would be a significant blow to Israeli human-rights groups, which receive a major portion of their money from abroad.
Sari Bashi, the head of Gisha, an Israeli group which uses legal aid to help loosen Israeli restrictions on Gaza Strip residents, said she was "deeply concerned" by the measures. "These bills not only endanger the fight for human rights in Israel, but they also threaten the very core of Israeli democracy." Ms Bashi said that about half of Gisha's annual budget of US$1 million comes from foreign countries and entities.
The measures, which need to be approved by Israel's predominantly right-wing parliament, appear to be the latest attempt by the country's right-leaning factions to sideline groups that criticise the Israeli government's or army's policies towards the Palestinians.
The bill limiting foreign donations, proposed by a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, accuses rights associations of "inciting" against Israel.
The legislation that would levy a 45 per cent tax rate on foreign donations was even clearer in targeting rights organisations. The draft of the bill said "several" groups were working to defame Israel in the eyes of the world and "encourage" the persecution of Israeli military officials abroad.
The Association of Civil Rights in Israel has condemned the bills, arguing that it was "ridiculous" that Israel would limit allied countries such as from Europe from funding local associations.
The group also said that such countries, in any case, exert influence over areas such as health, welfare, education and security in Israel since the country itself is a recipient of money in the framework of trade pacts, investments and loans.
Furthermore, the group said that right-wing politicians were unfairly targeting rights associations by limiting donations only from states and large organisations rather than from private donors.
It said the bill's intention was to leave the Israeli right-wing establishment untouched, since groups like settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem receive private funds.
Published: November 14, 2011 04:00 AM