Israeli NGOs push back on foreign-funding bills

JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem said Wednesday that its operations will not be affected by a 2016 law restricting NGOs that receive the majority of their funding from abroad.

In a joint statement with Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem said that neither group had received more than 50 per cent of its funding from foreign sources, which they would have to disclose in all of their publications.

In 2017, B’Tselem received 48.8 per cent of its funding from abroad while Breaking the Silence received 44.7 per cent.

The statement comes immediately on the heels of a new law banning organizations critical of the Israeli military from entering schools. The law appeared to be aimed at Breaking the Silence, an organization that brings former Israeli soldiers to schools and other venues inside and outside of Israel to talk about their personal experiences involving alleged abuses of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Following the passage of the law earlier this week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who sponsored the bill and leads the right-wing Jewish Home party, said, “organizations that undermine Israel’s legitimacy and slander IDF soldiers will no longer be able to gain access to Israeli students. Breaking the Silence long ago crossed the boundaries of legitimate discourse when they started libeling Israel in the international arena. As long as they operate against Israel and the IDF abroad, I will not let them in the education system.”

In response, Breaking the Silence Executive Director Avner Gavriyahu said that “when the occupation ends, all the empty political propaganda laws that were designed to restrict the work of those who resist the occupation will be remembered as a footnote. As individuals who are closely acquainted with the military regime over the Palestinians, we understand how important it is to continue exposing reality in the occupied territories.”

B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad said, “Control over the Palestinians requires control over Israel’s perceptions. Controlling Palestinians involves incessant violence, and the attempts to address Israeli opposition to this violence requires oppressing those who oppose and labelling them ‘enemies from within.’ These oppressive attempts will fail.”

Both groups criticized conservative politicians such as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for taking foreign donations and accused the government of seeking to “frame the receipt of international grants for the promotion of universal, humanist values of democracy, human rights and peace as a show of disloyalty.”

B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence said that in “an act of resistance against the Israeli regime’s attempt to delegitimize the fight against the occupation,” they would post the following statement on their websites: “In keeping with the law passed by the government in an attempt to frame receipt of foreign grants as a show of disloyalty, we note that we are not an organization primarily funded by foreign entities. Either way, we do remain loyal to the values of human rights, liberty, democracy and an end to the occupation.”

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