Israel this week passed a law
requiring domestic organizations
that are primarily funded by foreign governments to disclose
this connection in their communications with the government.
The law, shepherded by Ayelet Shaked, is totally neutral with
regard to the activities of the funded organization. However,
European governments that fund political groups only on the
left- and far-left of the political spectrum, have denounced the
law in apocalyptic terms as undermining Israeli democracy and
rightly inviting international opprobrium.
A major talking point of the law’s critics is that it has “no democratic
parallel,” and that it puts Israel in the category of non-democratic
regimes like Russia, and even sets it on the road to fascism. But
if these claims are true, there is little hope for democracy in the
U.S., which has had similar rules for decades, and imposed new
ones a few years ago without a peep of international objection.
Critics of the Israeli law generally concede that the required
disclosures are legitimate. They object that the application of
such disclosure requirements only to groups funded by foreign
governments, as opposed to those funded by foreign private
individuals (who, unlike the EU, support both left- and right-
-wing political NGOs), are arbitrary and therefore sets Israel
apart from other democracies. Both claims are specious.
First of all, treating foreign government contributions
differently from private ones is entirely commonplace and
rational, especially in the case of Israel. Governments are
indeed different from rich individuals. Governments have
foreign policies, trade rules, and United Nations votes
—and they use the groups they fund in Israel to produce
documents that they then invoke when taking those actions.
Private people have no similar powers. As a matter of basic
democratic integrity, groups that depend largely on
government funds should not be able to advertise their
“NGO” status without at least some small-print clarification.
Moreover, Israel has good cause to take a different approach
to the issue than other Western democracies because the
outsized role of foreign—and specifically European-funded—
groups is particularly egregious in Israel. Protecting the
integrity of Israeli democracy requires special transparency rules.
First, Israel is unique in the sheer scale of the foreign government
sponsorship of domestic political groups. For example, the
European Union alone has in recent years given roughly 1.2
million Euro a year for political NGOs in the U.S,. and roughly an
order of magnitude more in Israel—a vastly larger per capita
amount. This is magnified by similar imbalances in funding by
individual European countries. There is a unique secrecy
concerning the processes by which funding is granted to Israeli
non-profits by the EU and many individual governments,
including refusals in response to Freedom of Information requests.
Secondly, Europe itself has unique rules about funding Israeli
groups, which have no parallel elsewhere. Under Article 15 of
the EU’s special guidelines for funding Israeli groups,
organizations dealing with the territories are only eligible for
funding if they declare that their activities promote EU foreign
policy, and the EU agrees. These are groups that get the bulk
of their funding from the EU, but only if they promote Brussels’s
interests—the very definition of a foreign agent.
Indeed, even the United States uses NGOs as proxies to meddle
in internal Israeli affairs. As the U.S. Senate Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) reported yesterday,
the State Department funded an Israeli political organization
that later ran a campaign dedicated to ousting Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The distinction between getting money from a foreign government
and a foreign person is basic, and reflected in U.S. law. The House
of Representatives requires from those who testify before it a
disclosure of monies received specifically from foreign governments
—just like the Israeli law.
[to continue reading go here]
More egregiously, the Israeli law is so clearly aligned with the
American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) that both
Obama Administration officials and political groups have made
the false claim that unlike the Israeli measure, FARA applies “equally”
to foreign governments and foreign people. This is demonstrably
false as a matter of the intent, application, and text of FARA. In
fact, FARA only applies, in law and practice, to donations from
foreign governmental actors.