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Israeli cabinet approves controversial NGO bill

Israeli ministers have approved a contentious draft bill that would impose new rules on NGOs that receive money from foreign governments. Opponents say the bill is designed to silence criticism of Israel's rights record.

If passed by the Israeli parliament, critics say the bill would target left-wing NGOs that monitor the Israeli government's policies towards Palestinians while ignoring foreign funding of right-wing settler groups.

Developed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked

(above), the bill would require non-government organizations that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to identify donors in all official publications and communications with Israeli public bodies.

It would also require staff from those organizations to wear a special badge when visiting parliament, similar to the policy for lobbyists.

Shaked has described the bill as a measure to improve "transparency."

"We are asking of states that wish to intervene in Israel's internal affairs to do so publicly via diplomacy," Shaked, a member of the far-right, pro-settler Jewish Home party, said in a statement on Sunday.

The bill would target pro-peace groups and human rights monitors such as B'Tselem, Adalah, Peace Now and Breaking the Silence.

What about foreign funding of settlers?

Critics point out that the bill is discriminatory because many NGOs focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receive money from the European Union and EU governments.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlung Kedumim

Tens of thousands of Jewish settlers in the West Bank are funded by private foreign donations

However, private funds from abroad that finance illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that Palestinians want for a future state would not be covered by the legislation.

Peace Now, an Israeli rights group that promotes a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, described the bill in a statement as a "hate crime against democracy."

"The bill, also known as the 'transparency bill' has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with the delegitimation of organizations criticizing the government's policies," Peace Now said. "If the Minister of Justice is truly interested in transparency, she must first and foremost promote legislation requiring right-wing organizations to expose the millions they receive from private donors abroad and from the state budget."

'Attack on democracy'

Critics say the bill would put Israel on par with countries like Russia, Turkey and Egypt, which have their own restrictions on NGO funding.

Shaked has cited a

United Nations inquiry

into the 2014 summer war in Gaza to justify the proposed regulations. The UN inquiry found that Israeli Defense Forces killed hundreds of civilians and may have been guilty of war crimes. Shaked argues that the evidence for such findings was based on foreign-backed human rights organizations.

Shaked has accused human rights organizations and monitoring groups of "eroding the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state."

The European Union's ambassador to Israel has warned the bill would undermine Israel's international image as a democracy.

The left-leaning Israeli daily "Haaretz" wrote in a editorial on Sunday that the bill was a "disturbing milestone in right-wing efforts to delegitimize and silence these organizations."

cw/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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