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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant

This week the Israeli Knesset passed the NGO Transparency Bill into law, setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world... especially in the US, Europe and, of course, the UN.

This criticism was dutifully reported in the Israel-bashing media with varying degrees of accuracy as to what, exactly the NGO law is.

For those who are unfamiliar with the new Law, here are the main points (Don't thank me... I'm a giver):

  • NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must report this fact each year to the NGO Registrar in the Justice Ministry, which will publish a list of said NGOs.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on their websites for the rest of the year.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on any publications related to the NGO’s advocacy that are readily available to the public, as well as in their communications with public servants and elected officials.
  • NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments  are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before said committee

No, nobody has to wear badges (Badges?! We don't need no stinkin' badges!!!), nobody is being silenced, and certainly nobody is being shut down.  Everyone simply has to declare (i.e. be transparent) about foreign governmental financing in excess of half their annual budget.  

One of the phrases that was nearly universal in both the international and domestic condemnation of the new law was that "it is anti-democratic".  

Um... you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it does.  

Let's review:  A bill was introduced by a member of Israel's democratically elected parliament, and voted on three times after three separate readings (as required) before being passed into law.  The law itself asks for nothing more than that information that could potentially indicate the presence of hidden agendas or motives be made available to all active members of the democratic process, from the voting public to the decision makers in government.  

How is that anti-democratic?!

Here are some excerpts from yesterday's international hand-wringing sessions, along with some much-needed context from me:

UN:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was, "...concerned by Israel’s passage of the so-called ‘NGO Transparency Law,’ which contributes to a climate in which the activities of human rights organizations are increasingly delegitimized.”

No, no delegitimization going on here.  Human rights groups (more like Palestinian rights groups, since they make no attempt to advocate for Jewish Israelis whose human rights are violated), can continue doing whatever they have been doing.  They simply have to be open and transparent about who thinks their work is important enough to give them more than half of their operating budgets". 

EU:

The EU's External Action Service said "the reporting requirements seemed aimed at constraining the activities of civil society organisations".

No.  Once again nobody is being targeted or constrained.  But if an NGO is actually a front for a foreign governmental entity, they are no longer allowed to hide this fact.

US:

The US State Department said that the new law "could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel".

I find it troubling that foreign countries and media feel free to weigh in on internal Israeli policies, yet would bridle at similar interference in their own domestic affairs.  I suspect that this tendency stems from an ongoing international consensus that it's still 1947 and Israel's existence and legitimacy are still up for discussion, and subject to international deliberation.  

Sorry to break the news, but we are a sovereign country, with all that implies. Kindly sod off.

I also find it interesting that suddenly everyone is using the same terminology to describe these NGOs; 'civil society organizations'.  As if only so-called Human Rights NGOs are invested in promoting civil society.  In fact, quite the opposite is true if anyone bothers to track their activities.  

The very NGOs that are screaming the loudest against this new law are the ones behind much of the unrest and violence going on in Israel and the West Bank today, not to mention their direct involvement in incitement against Israel, and our demilitarization abroad.  

Let's think for a moment which foreign countries would encourage such un-civil behavior?  I guess this new law will soon put that question to rest.

What's interesting is that many countries have similar (or more stringent) laws which, just like Israel's, are meant to prevent undue foreign interference.  But the community of nations has not seen fit to lose their collective minds about those laws... only about Israel's.  

For instance, the US has had a law on the books since 1938 called the 'Foreign Agents Registration Act', requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate "evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons." [emphasis mine]

Russia also has a similar law called the 'Foreign Agent Law' that requires non-profit organizations that receive any foreign donations and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves as foreign agents.

All laws are meant to promote and/or discourage behavior.  In this case the new NGO Transparency Law is meant to discourage foreign governments from meddling in internal Israeli matters... at least without their proxies being forced to make their foreign governmental backers known to those they are trying to influence.  

But despite all the wailing, the new law isn't going to shut anyone down or silence any voices in our vibrant democracy.  In fact it has a loophole so big you could drive a tank through it:  If anyone wants to be exempted from the new law, they need only say 'no thank you' to all those foreign governments who are bank-rolling them, and find some private donors.  

If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the critics of the new law are screaming some variation of the following:  "The new law will apply almost solely to Human Rights organizations".  

That's not exactly true.  What is true is that at the moment it will apply almost solely to left wing Human rights organizations, because they are the only ones that are directly funded by foreign governments. Most right wing (and non-political) NGOs are funded by private individuals and grass roots sources.  There is nothing nefarious in that.  There are plenty of wealthy left wing donors who these NGOs can approach for funding.  

By the way, private donor funding is usually a better indicator of popular support for a position, since they are putting their own money where their mouth is.  For governments, even a huge donation (relative to the size of the organization), is just another line item in a bloated budget that nobody is checking very closely.

Complaining about who is most impacted by the new law is a bit like saying that drunk driving laws are inherently unfair because they only target those who drink to excess and get behind the wheel.  No government wants drunk drivers on their country's roads... nor do they want foreign powers having undue and/or hidden influence over their internal policies.

You know who hates this new law?  Those who have benefited for years from the ability to operate in the shadows.

So now, as a result of this new law, when an NGO tries to directly influence Israeli law and/or policy, those citizens, politicians and decision-makers that the NGOs are trying to influence will have the right to know that it is the Netherlands, UK or Spain backing their play.  

And as much as I would like to believe that all modern democracies have nothing but altruistic and unbiased motives for how they project their influence abroad... their voting records against Israel at the UN seem to suggest otherwise.

It isn't always the case, but it stands to reason that if a foreign power wants to assume an active role in another country's internal affairs, the public and decision-makers have a right to know about it.  Thus the word 'transparency' in the middle of the new law's name.  

Anyone who thinks that forcing an NGO to reveal their source of funding may prejudice their target audience against them, is probably right.  As it should be (see the bolded line in the US law above).  

Are Sweden's and Israel's interests always perfectly aligned?  Of course not!  So why should Sweden's funding of an Israeli NGO that tries to take a direct and active role in influencing Israeli policies, be hidden from view and consideration?

The rest of the world seems to think they always know what is best for my country.  But they don't have to live with the results of their often-mistaken and misguided ideas.  At least now their involvement and influence in Israeli politics will be brought into the light of day for all to see.   How can that possibly be a bad thing?  

After all, sunlight is still the best disinfectant.

Posted by David Bogner on July 13, 2016 | Permalink

Comments

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Spot on. I agree 100%.

Posted by: Ellis | Jul 13, 2016 2:49:48 PM

Why don't all countries have this law in effect?

Posted by: Dean Pawley | Jul 13, 2016 4:29:48 PM

What happens if a NGO receives more than 50% of their income from foreign a government and they don't report it?

Posted by: craig | Jul 14, 2016 1:58:05 AM

Have you read this article by Eugene Kontorovich

http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/207843/why-critics-of-israels-new-ngo-transparency-law-are-wrong

Posted by: Jake | Jul 14, 2016 7:34:39 PM

I think that it's high time someone explained to the UN that the State of Israel, as established by the UN, was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab states who resisted the UN's resolution, and that the State of Israel, as it emerged from the war of 1948, exists as all states do, because of its own ability to defend its borders.

This is the only way to begin to deconstruct this notion that the UN has some kind of existential authority over Israel.

Israel does not exist because of the UN. It exists because it defeated those who sought to destroy.

When I visit Israel, nothing - not even finding myself on the outside of the Security Fence - scares me more than the UN vehicles roaming the streets.

Posted by: rich | Jul 17, 2016 10:04:16 PM

It is my understanding that every NGO had to publically state where their money came from and it was available to the public (my husband is the co-chariman of an environmental NGO). The main difference now is that an NGO must publish it all over their website / advertising / etc IF they received 50% of their money from a gov't. Not a private donor, only govt.

This is just a witch hunt for the left wing NGO's. It is not like the same rules apply to the far right wing NGO's that get their money from very wealthy private donors who are also trying to induce change ...


I say if we want to make it transparent, make it transparent for all donors and NGO's.

Posted by: Ahuvah Berger-Burcat | Jul 18, 2016 11:18:47 AM

Ahuvah Berger-Burcat... you are simply parroting tripe that I have spent considerable time invalidating (above). Calling the law 'a witch hunt' implies both malice and that there is nowhere to hide from it. That the law, as written, has the most impact on left-wing NGOs is entirely of their own doing. Tomorrow morning these NGOs could opt not to accept money from foreign governments (i.e. stop adhering to the classic definition of foreign agent) and do their fund-raising among private citizens. If they did that, they would have no obligation under the law to disclose the source of their funding. However, you and I both know that there is no way they could possibly find enough private donations to replace the foreign government money, for the simple reason that their policies and agendas are wildly unpopular among the vast majority of private citizens, and only serve the agendas of foreign governments who wish to use their budgets to fund proxies that directly harm our country.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 18, 2016 11:28:18 AM

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