Israeli NGOs feel the heat from Netanyahu’s new gov’t

On a backstreet in Jerusalem sit the sparse offices of Band’Tselem, an Israeli organization that has long been a bane of successive governments, tirelessly flagging military abuses in occupied Palestinian territory.
Set up by a group of academics, lawyers and politicians more than 25 years ago, the NGO – whose name means andquotin the image ofandquot and is a synonym in Hebrew for human dignity – has at times portrayed itself as the conscience of the nation. But legislation being proposed by Israeland’s new right-wing government threatens to severely limit the work of Band’Tselem and scores of other Israeli NGOs that receive millions of dollars each year in donations from foreign governments and foundations. While the legislation is in draft form, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party says she is determined to crack down on those who take foreign money and then criticize Israel, accusing the NGOs of andquoteroding the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic stateandquot. An earlier legislative draft she submitted before rising to cabinet rank after a March election proposed a tax of up to 45 percent on foreign donations unless otherwise approved by a committee of defense and foreign ministry officials. From the point of view of aocacy groups, the proposals are a dangerous step that would put Israel in a category with the likes of Russia, Turkey and neighboring Egypt, which often struggle to accept internal criticism and have banned some NGOs.
andquotA super-enormous battle is being waged for the future of our society,andquot said Sarit Michaeli, Band’Tselemand’s spokeswoman and a veteran activist who has spent years gathering evidence of alleged transgressions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. andquotWhat we hav are many years of intense efforts to discredit Israeland’s human rights community, primarily related to our work exposing human rights violations.andquot Showing the government is determined to penalise those it believes are tarnishing Israel, Culture Minister Miri Regev said on Wednesday she will cut state funds for artists who are deemed to be overtly sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman