Bibi aims to cut funds to NGOs and stop them taking up Palestinian rights

Two Times of Israel articles

Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills, supporters and observers at the High Court of Justice for a hearing on Firing Zone 918, September 2, 2013. The right to this sort of hearing will be removed if Netanyahu goes ahead with a new law to limit access, see second item. Photo by Irene Nasser

Netanyahu vows Knesset push to limit NGOs’ foreign funding

PM says it’s ‘not right’ for groups to receive unlimited donations from other countries; also aims to pass Jewish state law by summer

By Marissa Newman, Times of Israel
June 12, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday confirmed the government would formulate a new bill restricting foreign government funding to Israeli organizations, significantly ratcheting up pressure on left-wing groups critical of Israeli policies.

At the weekly Likud faction meeting, the prime minister announced he had instructed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) to spearhead the proposal, which would primarily apply to left-wing human rights groups, many of which receive the bulk of their funding from foreign states.

“There is no limit on money funnelled to all sorts of organizations, which among other things, defame IDF soldiers, ” he said. “The situation is, in my opinion, not right.”

In July 2016, the government passed into law a hotly contested NGO bill, which forces non-governmental organizations that receive the majority of their funding from foreign countries to disclose this information on public documents. The NGO law was opposed by the US, and condemned by various European countries.

That law “was about transparency” but further limitations are necessary, Netanyahu said Monday, indicating the new measure will clamp down on how much money the groups may receive.

The measure will only apply to foreign government funding and not donations from individuals. He did not provide other details about the bill.

The prime minister also said Monday he intends to pass into law a bill that would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish nation-state in its Basic Laws during the current Knesset session, which ends on July 31. The “Jewish state” bill — authored by Likud MK Avi Dichter — passed a preliminary reading in May.

The new NGO proposal comes as Netanyahu stepped up his objections against these organizations in meetings with foreign leaders. In April, Netanyahu cancelled on short notice a meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel over the latter’s refusal to abort a planned meeting with Breaking the Silence, an organization that documents alleged abuses by IDF soldiers against Palestinians.

At a Likud faction meeting in late May, Netanyahu defended his new policy of shunning foreign leaders who meet with left-leaning NGOs, which Israel accuses of setting up Israeli soldiers for future prosecution in foreign tribunals.

“You can meet me. But you cannot meet with these organizations and also meet with me,” he said, adding that this message is sinking in. “Our soldiers protect us. And we will protect them,” he added.

Netanyahu on Sunday reportedly also told coalition leaders he would advance legislation curtailing the ability of many left-wing advocacy groups to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the state and the IDF on behalf of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Walla news site reported.

Netanyahu seeks to limit left-wing groups’ access to High Court — report

Proposed legislation would curtail ability of advocacy NGOs to appeal against the state or IDF on behalf of Palestinians

By Times of Israel staff
June 12, 2017

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told top cabinet ministers on Sunday that he was considering legislation to limit access to the High Court of Justice.

The legislation could mean curtailing the ability of many left-wing advocacy groups to appeal to the court against the state and the IDF on behalf of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Walla news site reported.

Netanyahu reportedly declared his intention at the weekly meeting of the party leaders in his six-party coalition. The ministers were said to discuss a bill by Likud MK Miki Zohar that seeks to limit standing before the High Court only to those directly affected by any particular state action.

Likud MK Miki Zohar picks up the anti-NGO baton

Israel’s High Court of Justice is a separate institution to its Supreme Court, though they are made up of the same 15 justices. While the Supreme Court is an appeals court for cases moving up from the magistrate and district court levels, the High Court allows for direct appeals against any state action. NGOs often appeal against legislation, regulatory agencies or, in the cases targeted by the new bill, Israeli policies or actions in the West Bank.

Zohar’s bill to place limits on the very broad range of individuals and groups that are permitted to file High Court appeals on any particular matter was first brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in May, but ministers delayed voting on it due to opposition from some coalition members and Knesset and Justice Ministry legal officials.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned last month that the bill would “harm the Supreme Court and the rule of law, especially in difficult cases and in [cases involving] weaker populations.”

The High Court mechanism has long been a target for right-wing complaints of overreach and legislative attempts to weaken the broad authority it has claimed over the years. The issue came to a head with the evacuation last February of the illegal Amona outpost in the northern West Bank, which was forced on the state by multiple High Court rulings that concluded that the land was privately owned by Palestinians and had been illegally seized by the Israeli residents.

Zohar’s bill is co-signed by coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) and Jewish Home lawmakers Moti Yogev and Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home).

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of the pro-settlements Jewish Home, have said they would support the bill, according to Walla. But Shaked warned that it would “not be effective,” as only 8% of appeals are carried out by NGOs, and the justices could offset any limits to standing by giving a broader interpretation to the personal connection required of any petition.

Bitan, who attended the meeting, reportedly insisted that the bill could be couched in an “effective” way that would prevent the possibility of widening the definition of personal connection to a petition.

Netanyahu asked for a few days’ reprieve in advancing the bill in order to examine the issue more carefully, the report said.

At the same meeting, Netanyahu reportedly told the coalition party leaders that he would seek new restrictions on NGOs receiving funding from foreign governments.

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