Israel looks out for itself
On Monday, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill, a mere two pages long, that requires nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Israel to disclose funding they receive from foreign governments. They must also disclose if a specific ad or event is paid for by funds designated by a foreign government. Despite cries of "Fascism!" and "McCarthyism!" by the hard-left NGOs and the likes of Time magazine, the legislation is extraordinarily limited in its scope. The new law requires only periodic disclosure of foreign governmental funding, allowing foreign private groups to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, three proposals circulating to investigate anti-Israel NGOs have been dropped.
I spoke by phone yesterday with Professor Gerald Steinberg, head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor group, which advocated for the legislation. He explained that the bill focuses on the issue that gives Israelis the most "discomfort," namely foreign governments' secret funding of NGOs that under the banner of "human rights" are promoting efforts to delegitimize Israel. I asked why the bill didn't also cover private foreign entities that can easily be used to funnel money to the Israeli NGOs. Steinberg told me that such legislation would have required a high degree of "complexity and lots of court battles." Since this leaves open a large loophole for anti-Israel Europeans to exploit, Steinberg feels that the legislation is largely symbolic, a red flag to foreign governments and an effort to show them that this practice "may cause them more harm than good."
Despite the international outcry from groups complaining about a simple disclosure law, Steinberg told me, "Transparency is not a right-wing issue in Israel." Polls conducted by the University of Tel Aviv show that 60 percent of Israelis favor requirements for transparency.
On a somewhat unrelated topic, I asked Steinberg about the reaction to the U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council last week and the accompanying harsh criticism delivered by Ambassador Susan Rice. Steinberg said that Israelis were "of two minds." He explained, "The U.S. vetoed, but the U.S. also aligned itself with those who attempt to make settlements the stumbling block to peace." He added that this was "another sign of confusion" by the Obama administration.
Perhaps that awareness of the muddled U.S. Middle East policy is a healthy development for Israel. It must begin to take on the task of fighting back against international efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, even when the Obama team is pouring fuel on the fire.
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