To read the original letter, click here.
European governments channel millions of euros each year to NGOs engaged in controversial political activity in Israel. In his opinion article, James Ron portrays attempts to inject greater transparency into this process as a "super-nationalist" assault on liberal values. Ron appears to lack an understanding of the draft law that he condemns, and of the context.
Thousands of Israeli NGOs of every stripe engage in vigorous public debate, and enjoy a high degree of access to the political and legal systems. In this environment, foreign governments seek to advance their own agendas by providing massive financial support to a select group of NGOs. Using the guise of "civil society," European government money pays for publications demonizing Israeli policies, parliamentary lobbyists, appeals to the Supreme Court, and even boycott campaigns.
In response, Israeli lawmakers spanning both government and opposition are working to close several lacunas in existing legislation. The proposed law, modelled on the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, would extend reporting requirements to NGOs not registered as non-profits, and provide for more timely reporting. When engaged in political activities, NGOs would have to acknowledge any external governments footing the bill. There is no clause that, in Ron’s words, "would force Israeli NGOs to register as political parties."
Ron, a Human Rights Watch board member, joins officials from other powerful NGOs in condemning legitimate discussions of the motives behind this foreign government funding. The leaders of influential Israeli NGOs receiving European money were offered an open platform at a parliamentary conference on the issue. All refused and condemned the discussion.
The dividing line in the Israeli debate is not between conservatives and liberals. It is between those favouring greater transparency, and those who benefit from the secrecy.