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Israel passes law to tighten finance regulations over NGOs

Xinhua, July 12, 2016 Adjust font size:

The Israeli parliament adopted Tuesday a controversial law to increase the regulation of rights groups and left-wing organizations.

The law targets organizations that receive more than half of their funding from overseas governments or bodies like the European Union.

Under the new legislation, these organizations will be required to state that they receive foreign funding in their annual financial reports, all official publications, and letters and communications with lawmakers and civil servants.

In practice, it will affect almost only left-wing and human rights organizations because right-wing groups almost always rely on local donations.

The law, dubbed as the "NGOs law" or the "transparency law," was sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party.

The European Union and the United States have voiced their concerns of the bill over the past months, ahead of its third, and final, approval overnight by a vote of 57-48.

The law comes as Israel is becoming increasingly concerned by international pressure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and to stop its control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of the law, welcomed its approval. He wrote on his Facebook page that the law aims to "prevent an absurd situation, in which foreign countries interfere in Israel's internal affairs by funding organizations and without the Israeli public is aware of this."

Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition and leader of the centrist Zionist Union party, slammed the new law, saying it is "indicative of the budding fascism creeping into Israeli society."

A spokesperson for Peace Now, a veteran pro-peace and anti-settlement Israeli organization, said the group will challenge the law's validity before the Supreme Court.

The new legislation "is a blatant violation of freedom of expression," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government's policies," the statement read.

The Association for Civil Rights, an Israeli rights group, warned the law aims to "delegitimize" organizations whose activities are not welcomed by the ruling coalition and to impair their capacity to operate.

"There is already extensive transparency regarding the donations NGOs receive, especially with respect to foreign government funding," Yaron Kelner, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement.

"Therefore, the law does not aim to increase transparency - but instead seeks to attack NGOs and to label them as if they are working against the State. A healthy democracy consists of many views and voices," he said. Endit