Occupied Jerusalem: A new Israeli bill targeting left-wing NGOs has prompted comparisons with the climate of hatred two decades ago and drawn criticism from rights groups, Washington and the European Union.
At the heart of the storm over a bill that the United States has warned could have “chilling” repercussions are long-established leftist Israeli organisations with strong international reputations. Peace Now promotes the creation of a Palestinian state, B’Tselem documents violations of human rights in the Palestinian territories, while Breaking The Silence is run by former soldiers opposed to Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Such organisations which challenge regime policies are increasingly accused by those on the right in Israel of forming a “fifth column” operating against the state and acting as agents of foreign powers.
Comparisons have been made with the polarisation of Israeli society at the time of the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a rightwing Jewish terrorist opposed to peace with the native Palestinians.
“In some ways it is worse” than during Rabin’s time, Hagai Al Ad, executive director at B’Tselem, said.
“The situation has dramatically changed since 20 years ago. The number of politicians that reflect the values we strive to see is dramatically smaller.”
Left-wing organisations are now under threat from a bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the radical Jewish Home party.
The text has renewed tension between one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history and the United States and the European Union.
The draft law demands that NGOs receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments declare it in all their official reports, while their representatives should wear a special badge during visits to parliament.
The text does not specifically refer to leftist organisations, but they are the ones it would impact.
Right-wing NGOs supporting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank tend instead to rely on private donations, such as from American Irving Moskowitz who grants funds for Jews to buy homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The anti-colony Peace Now organisation has produced a report on the lack of transparency in the funding of nine leading right-wing organisations.
The bill is “a heinous crime against democracy”, Anat Ben Nun from Peace Now said. “Under the pretext of transparency, the government is trying to delegitimise anyone who does not share its views or opposes its policies”.
For her part, Shaked argues that the bill aims to ensure “transparency and clarity”.
Writing in an American publication, she said that tanks and bombs are no longer the only challenge facing Israel.
“Sometimes the real threat lies in the interference of another country in your internal affairs.”
She denied the bill would restrict NGO activities, but said “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 government contends that constant criticism risks turning Israel into an international pariah and that attacks on the bill are meant to “besmirch Israel’s name”.
The United States and the European Union, however, have not remained silent.
Unusually, the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Monday published two press releases after a meeting between ambassador Dan Shapiro and Shaked.
The statements expressed US concern over the “chilling effect” of the bill.
The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told Shaked in a meeting that Israel could find itself grouped with authoritarian regimes which have passed similar legislation, a diplomatic source said.
The bill will be debated in parliament in coming weeks, during which time Washington and Brussels hope to influence its wording.
Apparently seeking to calm debate over the bill, Shaked on Thursday met representatives from each of the EU member states in Tel Aviv.
Europeans are alarmed at what has been compared to a witch hunt - as right-wing organisations launch scathing public attacks on their left-wing counterparts.
One video posted online by the group Im Tirtzu shows a man, apparently Palestinian, poking a knife at the camera along with 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 narrator says. “While we fight terror, they fight us.”
In response, the left-wing New Israel Fund has launched a campaign highlighting the dangers of such logic.
Its banners erected on highways and at bus stops show Rabin’s face with the slogan: “(The right) has already dealt with this foreign agent.”