A new Israeli bill targeting left-wing NGOs has been widely criticised by rights groups, Washington and the European Union. The bill was prompted comparisons with the climate of hatred from two decades ago, Gulf News reports.
The United States has warned the bill could have "chilling" consequences and affect well-established leftist Israeli organisations with strong international reputations. Among these are B'Tselem which documents human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, Breaking The Silence which opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and is run by former soldiers and Peace Now which supports the creation of a Palestinian state.
These organisations challenge oppressive governmental policies and are therefore increasingly subject to accusations from the Israeli rightwing as operating against state interests and acting as agents of foreign powers.
Social polarisation of Israeli society has become so pronounced, it is being compared to the "climate of hatred" of 1995 where the prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a rightwing Jewish terrorist opposed to peace with the native Palestinians.
The executive director of B'Tselem, Hagai Al Ad said "In some ways it is worse" than during Rabin's time.
“The situation has dramatically changed since 20 years ago. The number of politicians that reflect the values we strive to see is dramatically smaller.”
Leftwing organisations now face the threat of a bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the radical Jewish Home party.
The draft has increased tension between one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history and the European Union and the United States.
The bills stipulates that NGOs who receive the majority of their funding from foreign governments are required to declare it in all their official reports. In addition, the NGO representatives would be required to wear a special badge during visits to parliament.
Although the draft does not single out leftist organisations, those are the ones it would impact.
Rightist NGOs which advocate for the continuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank rely more on private donations, such as from American Irving Moskowitz who provides funding to Jews to buy homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The anti-settlements Peace Now organisation has released a report on the lack of transparency in the funding of nine leading rightwing organisations.
Anat Ben Nun from Peace Now has described the bill as “a heinous crime against democracy”. Ben Nun added that “Under the pretext of transparency, the government is trying to delegitimise anyone who does not share its views or opposes its policies”.
Yet Justice Minister Shaked claims the bill will ensure “transparency and clarity” and that tanks and bombs are no longer the only challenges facing Israel.
“Sometimes the real threat lies in the interference of another country in your internal affairs.”
Shaked said the bill would not restrict NGO projetcs, but instead stated that “hundreds of millions of dollars are sent to NGOs in Israel from countries that seek to decide the existing dispute between Israel and the Palestinian (National) Authority”.
The regime maintains that constant criticism could make Israel an international pariah and that criticisms of the bill aim to “besmirch Israel’s name”.
The United States and the European Union, however, have not remained silent.
In an unusual move, the US embassy in Tel Aviv published two press releases after a meeting between ambassador Dan Shapiro and Shaked on Monday. The press released expressed concern and warned against the “chilling effect” of the bill.
Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, informed Shaked that Israel risks being grouped with other authoritarian regimes which have passed similar legislation.
The draft is scheduled to be debated in parliament in the coming weeks. Washington and Brussels hope to influence its wording before then.
Europeans expressed alarmed and compared the issue to a witch hunt where rightwing organisations launch scathing public attacks on their leftwing counterparts.
One video shared by the Im Tirtzu group shows a man, who appears to be Palestinian, pointing a knife at the camera towards images of Israeli leftwing NGO leaders.
“Before the next terrorist stabs you, he already knows that (leftwing NGOs) will make sure to protect him,” the voice says. “While we fight terror, they fight us.”
However left-wing group the New Israel Fund launched a campaign which warns against the dangers of such logic.
Its posters displayed on highways and on public transportation show Rabin’s face with the slogan: “(The right) has already dealt with this foreign agent.”