Israel Set to Investigate Progressive NGOs

by Kevin Jon Heller

This must be that vibrant democracy Richard Cohen recently extolled in defense of denying democracy to Egyptians:

The Knesset House Committee on Wednesday approved the composition of two parliamentary panels to investigate the funding sources of human rights organizations.

Most of the opposition parties have decided to boycott the committees. The motion passed at the House Committee by a majority vote of 10-7.

The House Committee approved a motion for the first panel to be chaired by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu), who proposed its establishment.

Her proposal calls for the panel to examine financial support by foreign governments and organizations for “Israeli organizations taking part in the campaign of delegitimization against Israel Defense Forces soldiers.”

The second committee will also be chaired by its architect, in this case MK Danny Danon (Likud). He described its mission as “investigating the involvement of foreign governments and organizations in supporting activities against the state and attempts at the organized acquisition of state land.”


The committees will not be empowered to subpoena individuals from nongovernmental organizations, but governmental organizations can be required to send representatives to the sessions.

Funny how the panels won’t be investigating right-wing groups like NGO Monitor, who actively conceal their own funding sources while criticizing human-rights groups for their lack of transparency.  Indeed, the hypocrisy is so obvious that even the Knesset’s legal advisor criticized the plan.

24 Responses

  1. If there were legitimate concerns that some prominent organizations in the US that lobbied Congress received much if not most of their funding from foreign sources (particularly hostile countries) Congress would absolutely investigate them and rightfully so.

    Or, for example, if the Center for American Progress or AEI received significant foreign funding they would absolutely be a subject of an investigation.

    Oh wait!  We are talking about Israel, so of course you are trying to delegitimize them.  In other news, snow is cold.

  2. I have to say that humblelawstudent makes a good point. We should also wait to see what the Israeli Supreme Court makes of the Knesset’s committees before questioning the vibrance of Israeli democracy.

  3. Sorry, the comments in the latest two comments seem a bit off mark: It is not the right to investigate that is at issue here – it is the mandate that is a bit strange. Why only HR NGOs and not religious organizations funding settlements? Why only those against the IDF and not those in favour? Just thinking…

  4. The parliamentary panels have absolutely no authority to summon anyone (except for cabinet members), and their recommendations mean nothing. So much for KJH attempt to mock democracy in Israel. No doubt KJH is part of a truly vibrant campaign to trash Israeli politics, judicial system, universities etc. Enjoy yourself! 

  5. Hey KJH.
    Whether you are a Christian or a Jew why don’t you publicly proclaim your faith in countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, etc. See how your democratic “rights” are protected by these governments.  Why don’t you ask directions for the nearest Church or Temple – hope you have a good life insurance policy for your wife and kids.  Oh and if you don’t subscribe to any religion you can publicly proclaim that as well good luck in having your “rights” protected when you are attacked as an infidel. In contrast, you can freely practice in Israel (even Islam) yes you have rights in Israel – you know the country whose democracy you are disrespecting.

  6. The USA has the FARA [foreign agents registration act]. This is just an Israeli effort to legislate to accomplish the same purpose as the FARA.

    Now, to Guy, the draft that I’ve seen focusses on the funding of purportedly Israeli organizations that get their funding from foreign governments and foundations. So it is conceivable that religious groups that may be funded by foreign foundations could also be subject to investigation. Religious groups are not excluded from the purview of the law as proposed and now under discussion.

    Israel already has a law requiring all non-profit organizations and associations [called “`amutot”] to register with a Registrar of such associations, obviously including wholly domestic bodies. This law and the Registrar operating under its authority have little teeth and have been often disregarded, including by foreign-govt-funded bodies. Hence, the effort to determine what new legislation may be needed and to cause the foreign-govt-funded outfits to follow the principle of transparency –supposedly a high principle of the EU– and make their funding sources public. Since transparency is a democratic principle, what can be wrong with insisting on it through legislation?? What else is the purpose of the US FARA?

  7. The investigation by a Knesset committee would be no different essentially than a Congressional investigation committee conducting hearings but with a lot less power (no subpoenas).  What is the point here is that progressive, radical, left-wing groups have taken advantage of a system that until now has been afraid to deal with the issue of foreign finances subverting Israel’s democracy by permitting these groups, through money, to overcome the simple fact that they have no numbers to affect a civil societal change.  And these monies are not from Jews supporting Zionism but inimical non-Jews from Europe, and amazingly so, foreign governments or quasi-governmental institutions, that ply their trade as part of their opposition to the policies of a legally constituted government in a democracy.  This is truly intolerable and what the Knesset committees are charged with doing is simply uncovering facts.  If there are crimes, the police will take care of it.  If not, the public has been informed and an informed public is the height of democracy, no?

  8. Thanks, but I’ll stick with the Knesset’s legal advisor.

  9. Quite typical, yet sad KJH.

    Congressional investigations don’t have a partisan tilt depending on the party in power?  Of course, a partisan or ideological bias in an investigation taints the investigation, but to say that it is evidence against a “vibrant democracy” is a leap too far. 

    Unless, of course, you are KJH and take every step possible to delegitimize the state of Israel.

    Does NGO monitor lobby or organize in the state of Israel?

    Regardless, sure, let Israel investigate what foreign sources fund the settler organizations.  I bet they find that much of it comes from the US.  Whoop de do. 

  10. HLS,

    You got me.  Partisan witch-hunts are just part of the normal political process.  After all, there is precedent in the U.S. — HUAC.

  11. Kevin – NGO Monitor has been very public about its concern that the NGO Inquiry Committee would distract from the real problem: Non-transparent, European government funding of NGOs.  Two op-eds on this are below:

  12. So the US democracy isn’t sufficiently vibrant for KJH? And don’t pretend that you stick to the Knesset’s legal adviser: he never questioned the vibrancy of democracy in Israel.

  13. I think it is quite safe to say that US democracy is not vibrant enough for KJH.

  14. I think it is quite safe to say that both the US and Israel can do no right according to KJH.

  15. I am quite demoralized by these comments. Whatever certain commentators may believe about Prof. Heller’s views on Israel, it is surely legitimate to ask why Israel’s government is focusing on the funding of “left-wing” human rights NGOs at this particular time, particularly where the primary concern is apparently that these NGOs are engaged in “the delegitimization of Israeli defense forces.”  This seems like a pretty transparent attempt to chill the speech of NGOs who have been critical of Israel and its human rights record even if the law ends up affecting different types of NGOs (as noted by Elliot above).

  16. The first problem with Prof. Heller’s opinions is that he starts and ends with ideology. To get beyond his spin, and read the actual texts of the NGO funding transparency legislation (or the translations, for those whose Hebrew is rusty) and other relevant information, see the website. Democracy includes transparency and the public’s right to know, including foreign government funding used for exploiting human rights rhetoric for political warfare.

  17. “Democracy includes transparency and the public’s right to know.”

    Except, of course, if you’re NGO Monitor, whose stock in trade is waging political warfare against progressive human rights groups and concealing its own funding sources, which may well include funding from foreign governments and the Israeli government itself.

  18. Perhaps this discussion might benefit from some analysis of how these committees undermine the rule of law or democracy in Israel, which seems to be the claim implied in the original post.  It might be helpful to know from those condemning the initiative whether the parliamentary committee which approved the investigations transgressed municipal or international law.  Also, on the assumption that these investigations are unduly motivated by partisan considerations, is that something that distinguishes Israel from other democracies, or otherwise undermines its claim to be a democracy?

  19. Personally, I think this flirtation with McCarthyism should be encouraged. The ability of a partisan faction to hijack the legislature into singling out political enemies for investigation based on little to no evidence is the sign of a vibrant democracy. Michael Ben-Ari, Kahane’s right hand and barred from entering the US as a member of a terrorist organization, is an excellent choice for judging left wing NGO’s.  I congratulate Mr. Steinberg on his championing of transparency and anxiously await the voluntary unveiling of his organization’s donors.

  20. in other news: Bush has withdrawn from a trip to Geneva when politicians from right to left called for his arrest on grounds of credible evidence of torture..

  21. USA: Torture, war crimes, accountability: Visit to Switzerland of former US President George W. Bush and Swiss obligations under international law: Amnesty International’s memorandum to the Swiss authorities:

  22. Shudderbug,

    You’ll be waiting a long time.  In NGO Monitor’s twisted world-view, transparency is only for others.

  23. I thought this was a legal blog.  You know, the kind of blog where someone who takes a legal position on a point of concern substantiates it with facts and legal analysis.

    If so, it would be wonderful if that attitude could be extended to discussions concerning Israel and the United States.

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