Dozens march from the unrecognized village of Wadi Al-Na’am on a four-day journey through the unrecognized villages of the Negev, March 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Anti-NGO bill latest escalation of the assault on democratic values in Israel

The Israeli Knesset is moving forward a bill that targets human rights organizations that receive foreign funding. The bill is a new escalation in climate of intimidation and silencing of human rights activists and progressives in Israel. Intended to isolate Israeli non-governmental organizations that advocate for peace and protection of Palestinian rights, the legislation is a disturbing sign of a growing disregard for democratic values when it comes to criticism of the Israeli state’s policies.

While Palestinians have long been the targets of such silencing and intimidation, leftist and progressive Jewish Israelis have increasingly come under attack in recent years as the country has shifted even further to the right. During Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014, right-wing mobs attacked Jewish and Palestinian peace protestors. In a new low, a video released last month by the settler group Im Tirzu incites violence against Jewish Israeli human rights activists, calling them ‘plants’ and traitors.

The proposed bill targets liberal and progressive groups for receiving funding from other states, despite the hypocrisy of the fact that many far-right, settler groups receive significant amounts of foreign funding. Recently, Israeli daily Haaretz published an indepth investigation into the funding that is channeled into settlements from the US and a group of Palestinian-Americans filed a lawsuit to revoke the 501-c-3 tax exempt status of organizations that channel money to Israel.

The widespread condemnation of the proposed legislation, by several American Jewish organizations and even The Washington Post editorial board, is concerned with how this blatantly discriminatory legislation will affect the perception of Israel as a democracy. As the American Jewish Committee stated in a press release, it poses a “risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost.”  In reality, this legislation is a manifestation of the anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist path that Israel has been on for some time.

Until it becomes a state with equal rights and freedom for all of the people who live under its rule, Israel cannot profess to be a democracy.

In many respects, Israel has long been a democracy for its Jewish citizens only; the 20% of its population that are Palestinian face discrimination and perpetual suspicion, while Israel is nearing 50 years of ruling by force over millions of Palestinians in its occupied territories. In the occupied territories, where 4.4 million Palestinians who can not vote for the government that has sovereignty over them live, Israel restricts freedom of movement, conducts periodic raids, uses deadly force against protesters, detains and prosecuted through the military court system, and has control over tax revenue, water resources, and land usage.

Inside of Israel ‘proper,’ over 50 laws, as documented by Adalah, discriminate against non-Jews in the areas of housing, education, and employment. The Anti-Boycott Law which criminalizes advocating for non-violent pressure on the Israeli government, and the Nakba Law, which bars public funding for institutions that address the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel are other examples of the state’s assault on Palestinian rights and identity.

As Israel’s closest ally and largest supporter, the United States can and should use its leverage to put pressure on Israeli leadership to halt the passage of this bill, and to censure Israel policies that entrench occupation and discrimination against Palestinians.

Until it becomes a state with equal rights and freedom for all of the people who live under its rule, Israel cannot profess to be a democracy.

Recommended Readings:
The New York Times: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors (Jan 5, 2016)
+972 Magazine: Who receives more foreign funds: The Left or the Occupation? (January 4, 2016)
Haaretz: The Israeli Right Blasts NGOs for Foreign Donations, But Drinks from the Same Well (December 11, 2015)
Haaretz: U.S. Donors Gave Settlements More Than $220 Million in Tax-exempt Funds Over Five Years (December 7, 2015)
The New York Times: Israel’s Charade of Democracy (May 31, 2015)
The New York Times: Minority Life in Israel (October 27, 2014)

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