Israel’s new NGO legislation, although a relatively minor issue, was widely covered in the international media. Articles labeling the law as “anti-democratic,” “censorship,” and “a muzzle for dovish groups” appeared in news platforms such as the Associated Press (carried widely, including by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and Fox News), Washington Post, Reuters, Agence France Presse, France 24, the EU Observer and many more.
These articles closely resembled the language used by officials from some of the 25 NGOs that are affected by the law’s minimal reporting requirements (those receiving over half of their budgets from foreign governments). In addition, the New Israel Fund (NIF), a US-based organization that provides seed funding and support for more than half of these groups, issued many statements condemning the legislation. According to the NIF the bill “undermines Israel’s democratic heritage and risks creating a damaging chilling effect on the freedom of expression,” adding “no democracy worthy of its name targets only civil society organizations that disagree with the government.”
The NGOs +972 Magazine and Peace Now promoted their posts on their websites and social media. +972 Magazine stated that the “piece of legislation is meant to stigmatize left-wing and human rights organizations in Israel as agents of foreign powers.” Peace Now, which under the new law will have to indicate that a majority of its funding comes from foreign governments, stated that, “It is clear that foreign contributions are only to be disallowed if they are to promote projects that do not fall in line with the government’s agenda.” +972 Magazine receives government funding from Germany and Peace Now is supported by the Belgian, British, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Swiss governments .
The language used in the media reflects the intense NGO messaging campaign and spin. The Associated Press headline reads “Israel Passes Law Targeting Human Rights Organizations” and the Washington Post similarly exclaims “Israeli NGOs Decry ‘Deeply Anti-Democratic Move’ as New Law Approved.” The European Commission was quoted in the EU Observer as stating that, “Israel’s so called ‘transparency law,’ passed by the Knesset Monday by a slim majority, risked ‘undermining’ its status as a vibrant democracy with ‘freedom of speech a diverse civil society.'” The EU is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as stating that, “The new law goes beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seems aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organizations in Israel.”
Contrary to these media versions, the law applies to a general category of NGOs and contains no reference to “left-wing” or “human rights organizations” – this is political spin. Similarly, terms refering to “legitimate needs” and allegations of “constraining impacts”, also echoed in media reports, are also ambiguous and repeat self-serving NGO claims.
In addition, the NGO denunciations and media reports ignored key background information. The Israeli debate reflects the unique and highly disproportionate European funding to a small group of political NGOs, most of which are active in denouncing Israel around the world, through the use of human rights language.
For information and background on Israel’s debate on foreign government funding of NGOs, see:
Knesset NGO Vote is the Beginning of the Debate, Not the End, Gerald Steinberg, The Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2016
NGO Monitor Position Paper on the Proposed “Transparency Law,” June 27, 2016
NGO Legislation: Factsheet on Government Funding, NGO Monitor Report, November 2, 2015
If Europe Fails to Act, is Restrictive Legislation Unavoidable? NGO Monitor Press Release, December 27, 2015