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Knesset May Limit Foreign NGO Funding

A Knesset committee will vote on two bills imposing restrictions on foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

The bills, which were discussed in June in the ministerial legislative committee and then frozen, are scheduled for a vote Sunday. They reportedly have the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One bill, introduced by Likud lawmaker Ofir Akunis, would ban political organizations in Israel from receiving donations of more than approximately $5,500 from foreign governments and international organizations. The second, initiated by Fania Kirshenbaum of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, would tax the organizations at a rate of 45 percent on all revenue provided by a foreign government.

The bills apparently are targeting the human rights groups that provided information to the Goldstone Commission, which investigated the monthlong Gaza War that began in December 2008.

Israeli human rights groups, which rely heavily on donations from foreign governments, are likely to be affected the most by the legislation.

“It is saddening to see that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has now joined the various members of Knesset who do not cease to try and harm the activity of Israeli organizations that are not to their liking,” said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “These bills are dangerous, biased and hazy, which contradict the most basic principles of democracy: freedom of expression, protest, and assembly. These freedoms must be afforded to the entire spectrum of opinions and positions, not only to those that are approved by the prime minister, by MK Akunis and by MK Kirshenbaum.”

NGO Monitor said in a statement that “This legislation, as with similar previous ones, reflects the deep concern among Israel’s democratically elected representatives regarding foreign government funding to NGOs that are centrally involved in delegitimization campaigns. This concern is also reflected consistently in public opinion polls.”

Israel’s Supreme Court could reject the bills, according to reports.

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