MKs brace for heated vote on controversial transparency bill

Tempers were expected to flare at the Knesset plenum on Monday, as lawmakers prepared to deliberate and vote on a controversial bill dubbed the NGO transparency bill. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, one of the leading proponents of the bill, will be the first speaker at Monday’s plenum debate, followed by several dozen MKs.

If passed in its current language, the legislation will require NGOs that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments to list the sources of their funding on all their official publications. The bill’s provisions have come under fire from the Left, from various civil rights groups, and the Israel Democracy Institute, as it is seen as targeting primarily left-wing NGOs. There are also critical voices from within the coalition, with Kulanu MK Michael Oren leading the charge.

If the bill passes its first reading, it will be sent to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for further review before being resubmitted for its final two readings.

Oren, who served as Israeli ambassador to the United States, warned Sunday that the bill may have unintended consequences if it becomes law. “As someone who has worked his entire life to bolster Israel’s foreign relations, I cannot vote in favor of the bill, in its current language, with a clear conscience,” he said.

MKs Oren Hazan (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said they will not vote for the bill either. On Friday, shortly after Jewish families were evicted from two contested homes in Hebron, Smotrich announced that he would protest the move by being absent from all plenum votes until the families were allowed to return.

Hazan tweeted that he “cannot promise to vote with the coalition.”

Coalition Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said the vote will proceed as planned. He also criticized Smotrich and Hazan for potentially handing the opposition a legislative victory.

“Disagreements among the coalition’s factions should be ironed out through internal dialogue — they should not serve as a pretext for threatening the government,” Hanegbi said, warning that “MKs who throw a wrench in the government’s wheels will be disciplined, as has been the case in the past.”

Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer and Dr. Amir Fuchs, both from the Israel Democracy Institute, recently wrote a legal opinion on the bill and sent it to Shaked. In the opinion, the two noted that despite the bill’s stated intention, it had nothing to do with transparency.

“It is clear that the bill’s goal is not transparency … but rather to label non-governmental organizations as ‘foreign agents’,” they wrote. They further added that the transparency requirements under current Israeli law were sufficiently effective.

“For the past four years [since a similar NGO bill was passed] NGOs have had to disclose funding from foreign entities … on a quarterly basis,” they wrote.