Orwell Would Love Israel's Anti-NGO Bill

Move to Limit Funding Runs Counter to Global U.S. Policy

We Won’t Be Silent: Israeli activists protest anti-NGO bill that would limit funding to human rights groups.
getty images
We Won’t Be Silent: Israeli activists protest anti-NGO bill that would limit funding to human rights groups.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published December 15, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Ah, you’re thinking, but these funds target dictatorships like Burma and North Korea, not fellow democracies. Surely we’re not equating Israel with North Korea?

That depends. Most of the endowment’s grants are in evolving democracies, like Nigeria and Moldova, that welcome America’s intervention. Others, like Belarus and Zimbabwe, harass and imprison U.S.-backed activists. Washington judges the level of democracy in other countries partly by the welcome they give such efforts. Israel apparently hasn’t yet decided which side it’s on.

As for Israel’s own foreign politicking, it consists mainly of government-backed agencies that support local organizations in other countries urging Jewish citizens to emigrate. Some countries, including France and Ukraine, deeply resent this activity, largely because of the way it disparages their way of life and seeks to alienate their citizens. In other countries, such as our own, opposition comes mainly from the local Jewish communities. Full disclosure: My kids attend the same Zionist summer camp that their father and grandfather did. I’m all for it. But let’s call a spade a spade.

Then there are the impossibly Orwellian contradictions in the bill itself. To begin with, some of its fattest targets, like B’Tselem, which monitors alleged human-rights violations in the territories, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Israel’s version of the ACLU, are devoted mostly to exposing and challenging government violations of Israel’s own laws. They do this through the courts and the press. Sometimes these cases are upheld, sometimes not. That’s how democracy works.

And how to distinguish the “threatening” NGOs from the “political” or strictly kosher? The threats in the bill include: rejecting Israel’s right to exist, inciting racism, supporting violence against Israel, supporting international indictments of Israeli politicians and soldiers, calling for boycotts of the state or urging Israeli soldiers to disobey orders. NGO Monitor has a list of 23 organizations that would be likely targets. It’s not clear which it regards as “political” and which as threatening.

It’s a slippery exercise. Does opposing Israel’s right to exist include opposing its Jewish character, a key point of contention with the Palestinians? If so, who defines Jewish character? If you keep your tax exemption by favoring Jewish needs over non-Jewish, do you then lose it for inciting racism? What about “supporting” international indictments: Does that include unearthing damaging information that shows up in the indictments, the main charge against some key suspect organizations?

And what if you cross the red lines — advocating soldiers’ insubordination, say, or inciting violence against Israeli troops — with the aid of Israeli government funds? What if you’re a rabbi who urges soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate outposts or calls such demolitions acts of treason? Do you lose your tax exemption (or government salary) for such acts? Or only for pointing them out?

The more you look at it, the more it becomes clear that the effect of the bill — its main intent, in fact — is to restrict or outlaw the advocacy of observing the laws of the state. Orwell would have loved it.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.