Israel’s human rights NGOs pushed back this week after the Knesset passed a transparency law that critics say was the most recent attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to persecute the country’s left.
Leading Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now vowed to wage legal war against the new law, which requires NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign donors to prominently disclose the information publicly, and to the government.
Under the law NGOs must declare their funding sources prior to addressing Knesset committees, speaking with public officials, as well as on publications and websites.
Peace Now was among an estimated 27 affected NGOs to slam the law for delegitimizing left-wing organizations, while NGOs promoting illegal policy in the occupied Palestinian territory continue to receive millions from private donors with little transparency regulations.
“Tailored specifically to target only peace and human rights organizations, its true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government’s policies,” the group said after the law passed.
A Peace Now spokesperson told Mondoweiss their legal team has been running back-to-back meetings intent on tackling the law, after announcing they will bring the law to Israel’s supreme court.
The group’s sentiments were echoed by Knesset member Michal Rozin of Meretz who argued the sole purpose of the bill was political persecution wrapped in democratic terms.
“[T]he purpose of this law is the targeted killing of a precise list of organizations that are identified with the left in Israel,” Rozin said last week.
The new transparency rules apply only to groups that receive foreign funding from governments and not individuals. In Israel most left-wing NGOs are backed by grants from outside governments and institutions, and right-leaning NGOs benefit from support given by private funders.
The result is that Israeli NGOs pushing discriminatory policies propagated by far-right officials in Knesset remain untouched by the proclaimed call for transparency, despite relying on foreign donors too.
A Haaretz investigation last year revealed that private U.S. donors gave $220 million to illegal Israeli settlements between 2009 and 2013 through tax-exempt nonprofits.
Such donations have supported Israeli NGOs which aim to expand and strengthen settlements, expel Palestinians from areas under Israeli military occupation, and provide legal aid to Jewish-Israelis convicted of terrorism, according to the report.
Human Rights Watch said a double standard is at play. “If the Israeli government were truly concerned about transparency, it would treat all groups the same—not appear to target those that criticize the government’s policies,” the group said.
Despite accusations that the law was politically-inspired against the left, far-right politicians who authored the legislation insisted the measure was solely to prevent outside foreign interests from interfering in Israel’s domestic affairs.
“Until now, we accepted [such foreign intervention] with bowed heads. Our heads are bowed no longer. This law is about nothing more than transparency,” said Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked who introduced the bill last week.
Head of the Joint List party Ayman Odeh challenged, “You chose to persecute two kinds of organizations: those working for equality and those battling against the occupation. With that, you’ve clearly marked your enemies—peace and equality.”
The majority of groups affected by the bill work towards exposing and ending Israel’s decades-long military occupation and upholding the rights of women, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and other minorities.
Work by such groups has played a role in informing international criticism of Israel’s military occupation and treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Peace Now said the transparency law was “one of a series of bills and initiatives that oppose legitimate social and political action.”
Members of Netanyahu’s coalition have supported other legislation allowing for the suspension of Knesset members who contradict official lines, and recently slammed the NGO Breaking the Silence for alleged “treason,” after the group collected testimonies from ex-soldiers revealing systematic misconduct.
The trend reflects what Tel Aviv University political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin identified as increasing attempts by Netanyahu’s coalition to delegitimize individuals and groups—including state institutions—that oppose a right-wing narrative increasingly rooted in extremist policies.
Israel’s supreme court has also been the target of such campaigns after overturning laws passed by the hardliners in Knesset.
“Many see the supreme court as leaning left, and there’s been a kind of top down perpetuation of the narrative that [it] has stepped out of bounds,” Scheindlin said, adding that Justice Minister Shaked is understood to be “extremely committed” to weakening the court.
Shaked last week instructed the opposition not to bring their case against the new transparency law to the Court, on the grounds that such a process should be carried out via parliamentary processes.
Peace Now, for its part, said plans are underway to combat the new law by the end of this week.