24 January '16..
If you believe Israel’s relentless critics in the media and now in the State Department, Israeli democracy is on death’s door.
The irony is, this accusation comes in response to Israel’s efforts to actually preserve and strengthen democracy from the forces that seek to weaken it.
The fuss is about Israel’s proposed law requiring transparency from political organizations in our country funded by foreign governments.
My country can’t ignore the protests, especially since US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has publicly joined them, after voicing his objections to Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister and the force behind this proposal. Shaked has also been defending the policy to European governments, which provide the lion’s share of funds to these groups.
Shapiro thinks this law would erode democracy in Israel. He’s not alone in this hyperbole: Major American newspapers have published editorials on it, even making the absurd comparison between Israel and Putin’s Russia.
So let’s set the record straight, for Ambassador Shapiro and the American public. Here are the facts about the proposed law:
It doesn’t prohibit any activity whatsoever. Even entities funded entirely by foreign governments will still be free to do and say whatever they want in Israel.
But — and this is crucial — the groups that claim to be nongovernmental but are actually instruments of foreign governments will be acknowledged as such.
The bill does one thing and one thing only: When more than half of an entity’s funding comes from foreign governments, it must disclose that fact and the amount of funding from those governments. That’s it.
It’s similar to several statutes in the United States. Both the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and more recent laws adopted by Congress impose special disclosure requirements on individuals and organizations funded by foreign governments. There’s a simple reason for such requirements. Without them, organizations held out as NGOs — that is supposed to mean nongovernmental organizations — operate as stealth diplomats funded by foreign governments without saying so.
This lets them do what diplomats do — press other countries for actions and policies they favor — without any of the consequences, trade-offs and publicity that proper diplomacy entails. In the intelligence world, entities that do these things are called “agents of influence.” Every country tries to identify such groups.
That’s the purpose of the extensive US regulation for such entities, starting with FARA enacted back in 1938, and continuing with an array of other laws and regulations put in place since then.
About $66 million flows into these groups from European governments. The European Union itself, Norway and Germany are the largest such donors.
Additionally, Israel’s proposed law is, in fact, milder than existing US law in important ways:
In the United States, these are criminal statutes — punishable by up to five years in jail. Israel’s law has no criminal component.
US law determines who are “agents” of foreign “principals” using a complicated and vague legal test that leaves room for uncertainty, further threatening to chill political speech. Israel’s test is simple: If a majority of an entity’s money comes from foreign governments, they’re covered. If not, they’re not.
American law imposes quite burdensome record-keeping requirements, including the duty to record every single person an agent meets with professionally. Israel’s record-keeping duties will be far lighter.
Strikingly, many of the entities covered by the Israeli law are required to agree to EU-enforced political positions to be eligible for EU funding. This means the European Union is directly controlling the political positions taken by organizations working to influence the Israeli political process.
American protest about Israel’s proposed rules is particularly odd given that it comes just as Congress is implementing virtually identical disclosure rules for people testifying before it.
Of course, the protests about this law aren’t coming from Congress. They’re coming from the Obama administration, which just so happens to agree politically with all of the European-funded groups that are trying to push Israel’s policies in a particular direction. No wonder the European Union and President Obama are unhappy about transparency.
Adding to the hypocrisy: The European Union has recently decided to label Israeli products that come from Judea and Samaria so consumers can make informed decisions about the political implications of the origin of those products.
If such disclosure is important for choosing products in the grocery store, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be much more important for those trying to influence another country’s political process.
Dr. Anat Berko is a member of the Israeli Knesset and a Lt. Col. (Res.) in the Israel Defense Forces.
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