Targeting Free Expression in Israel
by Stephen Lendman
During previous Knesset session proceedings, MKs Ofir Akunis and Faina Kirshenbaum legislation to limit NGO funding was defeated.
Last week, MKs Ayelet Shaked and Robert Ilatov proposed their version. They call it a “softer version of the NGO bill.”
It’s harsh, not soft. It prohibits NGOs from receiving more than NIS 20,000 from “foreign entities” if they, their members, employees, or anyone related to them engages in one or more of the following practices directly or indirectly:
- calling for Israeli soldiers to be tried in international courts;
- urging boycotts of Israel, its companies or citizens;
- denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; and/or
- inciting racism or advocacy for armed struggle against Israel.
At issue is targeting free expression. Israel wants critics silenced. Enactment assures compromise the right to speak freely and organize in Israel.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein opposes the legislation. “Stopping activity permitted by law cannot be a legitimate aim,” he said.
In late June, he challenged a bill prohibiting slandering IDF soldiers. It’s called the “Jenin, Jenin” law. He called it unconstitutional and disproportionate. It violates free political expression.
Deputy Attorney General Orit Koren presented Weinstein’s opinion. He did so during a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussion.
Members approved the bill. It permits suits against individuals or groups slandering IDF personnel or actions within the framework of existing libel laws.
Doing so raises fundamental concerns. According to legislative language:
“Those who defame Israel, waging a campaign of de-legitimization against it in the international community, who wish to bring about a boycott of the state and its citizens, have chosen IDF soldiers as a comfortable target in recent years, fully aware that no legal steps can be taken against them.”
“Though many fabricated claims against IDF soldiers have been exposed over the years, but due to procedural constraints, the soldiers who were trampled and whose reputation was damaged were left without any legal solution.”
Weinstein said “the bill harms the basic right to freedom of expression.” Prohibiting legitimate lawsuits would cause “disproportionate harm to political freedom of expression, which among all freedoms, is the most heavily guarded, legally speaking.”
The so-called softened NGO bill makes them liable for actions their members and employees take. The bill’s previous version treated NGOs as corporations.
The new version makes them liable if one member, official or employee violates one or more bill provisions explicitly or implicitly.
Critics call the legislation outrageous. It mandates surveillance and blacklisting activists and protesters. It targets academic petitions, writers and outspoken critics of Israeli policy.
It criminalizes NGOs for doing the right thing. No purpose is served in distinguishing among donations from states, international organizations, and private identified or anonymous individuals or groups.
Why ban donations from states suspected of alleged improper intervention, while others from foreign religious groups or business interests are legitimate?
At issue is silencing Israeli criticism. Doing so puts a lie to democratic rights. Israel wasn’t established as a democracy. It’s not one now. Claiming otherwise doesn’t wash.
On July 10, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) headlined “New bill to limit NGO funding undermines freedom of expression and democracy.”
According to ACRI’s Director of Policy Advocacy Debbie Gild-Hayo:
“Following the flood of anti-democratic legislation that we witnessed in the last Knesset, including a version of this bill, the then government apparently realized that such awful bills were causing severe harm to Israel.”
“As a result, after fierce criticism and public pressure, the government indeed halted their progress.”
“I sincerely hope that ministers in the current government are wise enough to block this bill; a bill that severely undermines freedom of expression and democracy in Israel, and whose main aim is to silence those who disagree with MK Shaked.”
It’s draft form remains a work in progress. It’s called: The Amutot (Non-Profit Organizations) Law Amendment: Support of NGOs in Israel by Foreign Political Entities – 2013.
Amendment to Section 36A – The 1980 Amutot (Non-Profit Organizations) Law
Subsection 1A was added, stating:
“No non-profit organization will receive a donation of more than NIS 20,000 per year from a foreign state entity, if the goals or conduct of the non-profit organization, or conduct of any member, employee or member of the board of the non-profit organization expressly or implicitly supports one of the following positions:
(a) Calling for the prosecution of IDF soldiers in an international court;
(b) Calling for boycotts, divestment or sanctions against the State of Israel or its citizens;
(c) Denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
(d) Incitement to racism; (and/or)
(e) Supporting the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”
This bill wants free expression stifled. Targeting NGOs is one example. Israel wants its message alone heard.
It wants critical voices silenced. It’s doing it legislatively. It’s doing it repressively. Rogue states operate this way.
On July 11, Haaretz editors headlined “Ignorant of democracy, extreme right is after NGOs once again.”
Dominant rightwing extremists run Israel. They’re “obsessively trying to introduce nationalist content into the education system, exclude Israel’s Arab minority and make a mockery of the very idea of democracy by subordinating it to religion in the guise of Zionism.”
“To all this must now be added an idiotic new initiative, which, if successful, would eliminate freedom of expression in Israel and thwart legitimate criticism.”
It targets activist NGOs. It wants Israeli critics silenced. “Similar bills submitted to the last Knesset were frozen.”
Attorney General Weinstein opposed them. He said enactment would “put Israel on a par with the handful of other countries that have taken similar steps, and it’s doubtful that it would be appropriate for Israel to be envious of their regimes and to act like them.”
He’s “wrong,” said Haaretz. “The racist coalition set up by Benjamin Netanyahu is not only jealous of those benighted countries, but it wants to surpass them.”
Extremist MKs think doing so will convince people “to believe what’s said in Israeli propaganda films.”
If NGO criticism is stifled, “it won’t be long before any public institution, municipality, school or yeshiva in which a single employee criticizes government policy or calls for boycotting Israel will suffer a harsh blow to its pocket.”
“That’s the kind of slippery slope this legislation represents if it’s not stopped immediately.”
A Final Comment
Coverup, denial, and rightwing extremism reflect official Israeli policy. Global activists target what’s too deplorable to tolerate. Israel’s waging a losing battle.
Days earlier, social justice leaders urged more 2011/2012 rallies. At issue is neoliberal harshness. People take so much before reacting.
On July 14, thousands marched from Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to Kaplan Street. They did so for social justice.
Tel Aviv mayoral aspirant Nitzan Horowitzy said demonstrations are “more just than ever.”
“People are crying out for two years, and the problem only gets worse.”
Protest leader Daphni Leef called Saturday’s action “an opening for a new season of protest. (The) response to thieves should be revolution – bread and medicine are not the objective.”
Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy headlined “The Israeli patriot’s final refuge: boycott,” saying:
It’s a “patriotic requirement.” Everyone concerned about Israel’s future should participate. Doing so can “produce historic benefits.”
“The current status quo cannot continue forever.” Change more than ever is needed. It “won’t come from within.” It’s been clear “for a long time.”
As long as Israelis “don’t pay a price for” social injustice and occupation harshness, no “incentive” exists for change.
“As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing.”
“Change will only come from the outside. A nonviolent Palestinian uprising is one option.” Don’t expect one soon.
Washington won’t apply pressure. Congress and US presidents support Israeli lawlessness. European leaders talk the talk. They haven’t walked the walk.
Is there reason to expect change? In 2005, EU countries and Israel agreed on trade terms. They excluded customs exemptions for settlement-produced products.
Doing so recognized what hasn’t been enforced. Settlements aren’t part of Israel. Future EU/Israeli agreements won’t apply to occupied territories.
At least that’s how language reads. Enforcement’s another matter.
Guidelines prohibit funding, business and scientific cooperation, scholarships, tourism, sports, youth exchanges, research funds, and other joint initiatives exploiting Occupied Palestine.
Specific language says settlements aren’t part of Israel. They’re excluded from any agreement. An anonymous Israeli official called the new ruling an “earthquake.”
“This is the first time such an official, explicit guideline has been published by the European Union bodies,” he said.
“Until today, there were understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line.”
“Now this has become a formal, binding policy. We will have to decide what to do from this day forward.” Accepting these terms will “cause sever damage to Israel.”
Maybe the earth shook. At stake is will it crack enough to matter?
According to EU officials:
New guidelines “are in conformity with the EU’s longstanding position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories, irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”
EU nations say updating guidelines aim to prevent greater boycott of Israeli products in Europe. Israel’s world status shows weakness. Repressive policies risk “creeping international isolation.”
Perhaps not now. Eventually is likely. Israeli policies are self-defeating. Extremism costs. They pay a price.
Israel won’t bend. It never did earlier. Perhaps enough enforced pain will deliver a message loud enough to be heard.
Don’t expect it. Don’t believe it unless it happens. It never did before. Will it henceforth?
Note: Tuesday evening, Netanyahu responded to upgraded EU guidelines. He didn’t surprise. It was typical Netanyahu over-the-top bluster, saying:
“We will not accept any external edicts on our borders. As prime minister of Israel, I will not let anyone harm the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, in the Golan Heights, or in Jerusalem – our united capital. (B)orders will be determined only in direct negotiations between the sides.”
Looks like we’re back to square one. Don’t expect craven EU officials to challenge him. They never did before with teeth. It’s highly unlikely now.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.