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January 3, 2016 7:12 am

Why the Israeli Left Fears the New NGO Law

avatar by Matan Peleg

The Israeli Knesset. Credit: James Emery

The Israeli Knesset. Credit: James Emery

The shrill reaction to the proposed NGO law in Israel is hardly unexpected. It is consistent with the reflexive reaction to any perceived incursion on the monopoly that the Israeli Left believes itself entitled to.

Whether it is holding themselves out as the only guardians of human rights, or the truest patriots because of their self-conceived courage in confronting the institutions of the state, the Left has long believed that it should be accorded great respect and unencumbered flexibility in how it conducts itself.

For a long time, the citizens of Israel fell into line and acted accordingly. But something tectonic has taken place in Israel, and the Left ignores this at its peril. What has changed is that there has been an awakening to the relationship that Left-wing NGOs, whose mission is to demean and de-legitimize the state of Israel, have with foreign governments — mostly in Europe.

That relationship is based on financing. Lots of it.

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Israelis intuitively know that this threatens our self-determination and even sovereignty. Why? Because foreign governments are players seeking to change Israeli policy concerning the Palestinians, as they seek to further the Palestinian agenda.

Foreign governments can influence world bodies, other governments, trade relationships and a whole host of geopolitical issues that private donors to NGOs — no matter how wealthy or influential — cannot hope to match.

So when a law is proposed that would require an NGO receiving significant foreign funding to identify itself as working on behalf of that government, most Israelis believe this to be reasonable, justified and not an incursion on the operational freedom of NGOs.

Rather, the opinion of most Israelis matches that of the US Supreme Court, which has opined that “democracy is not a suicide pact.” Simply stated, democracies have the right, indeed the obligation, to protect themselves. The proposed Israeli law is just such a protection.

So the reaction from the Left is just as misplaced as it is loud. The law applies to any NGO that receives foreign government funding. (The fact that the only NGOs receiving such funding are left-wing ones bears out the fear of why that money is being given in the first place. No money is being given to groups that support the state, only those that stand in active opposition to it.)

The law would not prevent the NGOs from receiving the funds; rather it would require a clear identification and affiliation between the funder and a donee organization. The only conceivable reason that the NGOs should be worried is because somehow the very relationship they have with these governments could be worrisome.

And that’s the whole point. The Left is worried because a light shone on the true state of things is indeed troubling. They liked it better when hardly anyone was aware of the truth.

If an organization gets money from the Schwartz family or the Schmendrik Foundation, that bespeaks identification of the donors with the cause they are giving to. But when the government of Sweden, Belgium, Scotland or Norway is writing checks, they are looking for the organizations to reflect their own policies and priorities, and will have considerable influence in setting the NGOs’ course.

The recent defection of Bassam Eid from B’Tselem because the European funders of the NGO insisted that he not pursue allegations of malfeasance against the Palestinian Authority, but only against Israel, is just one such example.

So, let the Left howl and cry, calling the rest of us fascists and McCarthyites, and predicting the demise of democracy in Israel. The more they cry, the more they point the finger, the more marginal they become.

Israel strengthens, not weakens, its democracy with the NGO Law. It is long overdue and much needed.

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