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Another Blow For Civil Society and Dissent In Israel

Another Blow For Civil Society and Dissent In Israel

Johannesburg, 14 August 2013: Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is deeply concerned about the proposed legislative changes to the Non-Profit Organizations Law in Israel and the effect this will have on civil society space and the right to express dissent in the country.

Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, is currently considering a restrictive amendment to the Amutot (Non-Profit Organizations) Law. The bill introduced in the Knesset on 9 July seeks to prohibit civil society organisations (CSOs) from receiving more than NIS 20,000 (approximately $6000) if they have called for the trial in international courts of IDF [Israeli Defence Force] soldiers or for boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Attempted restrictions on foreign funding for CSOs critical of official policies are not new in Israel. In 2011, similar attempts were made to cut off funding sources for independent CSOs but were abandoned following international pressure.

“The proposal to amend the Amutot Law is characteristic of an increasingly hostile environment for civil society in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is part of an on-going clampdown on dissent and calls into serious question, once again, the Israeli government’s self-definition of being a democratic state while its actions suggest otherwise,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS.

During the last few years Israel has faced growing international and domestic criticism and pressure from the global BDS movement, including numerous CSOs and activists.  CIVICUS is concerned that the new law seeks to silence dissent through policing the views of members of CSOs.

Also subject to funding restrictions are organisations which deny “Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” a definition which leaves open the possibility for broad interpretation by authorities seeking to limit political expression and silence legitimate dissent in the country.

Arguments that the bill addresses a need to improve the transparency of NGOs operating within the state of Israel fall short, as organisations of this kind are already required to be completely transparent regarding their funding, mission and work.

As CIVICUS documented in its UN Universal Periodic Review on Israel, similar legislation seeking to limit foreign governments’ donations to nongovernmental organisations have been submitted to the Knesset in the past but were deemed unconstitutional by the Attorney General.

Following the decision on the part of the Israeli government to sever ties with the UN Human Rights Council, in March 2012, CIVICUS urged Israel to participate in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. With Israel’s next UPR examination scheduled for October 2013, CIVICUS calls on the Knesset to reject the proposed changes to the Amutot Law and to encourage an enabling environment for civil society in Israel.

“The space for expressing dissent against the official discourse on Israel is already extremely limited and very risky, and so the international community must put pressure on Israel to curb further repression of democratic freedoms,” said Tiwana.

ENDS

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