On Sunday, May 28, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation will debate a proposed bill that will stifle the work of civil society in Israel – clearly targeting Palestinian Arab civil society organizations. The bill will impose a 65% tax on the income of NGOs who engage in public advocacy or use paid advertising to promote a cause within two years before or after receiving a donation from a foreign institution or organization, ending their status as tax-exempt public institutions in the country.
The bill, proposed by a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party to fulfill a promise made in the coalition agreements to National Security Minister Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power party, defines public advocacy as any form of appealing or providing assistance to government institutions at all levels, including individual employees.
The bill will undermine the work of minority civil society organizations in Israel as Palestinian Arab and other minority NGOs rely almost entirely on funding from foreign foundations and institutions, whereas far-right Zionist NGOs - who contributed to the development of the judicial overhaul legislation - rely mostly on private individual donors. In addition to Palestinian Arab civil society groups, this bill would hinder the work of Ethiopian organizations as well as CSOs that fight for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
Less than 6 months ago, far-right Finance Minister and leader of the Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich said that NGOs are an “existential threat” to Israel and that the state must “get its hands on the money” of such groups and act against them using legal and security means. In November of last year, Likud Knesset Member Amichai Chikli, now serving as the Minister of Social Equality, claimed that the European Union is "the arrowhead that participates in delegitimization activities” and explicitly attacked the Mossawa Center. Now, with the proposal of the bill, we see an unprecedented escalation in the current far-right government’s attack on democratic institutions and rights in Israel and a marked leap from rhetoric to action.
The international community, namely the European Union and the United States, is at a critical juncture. The critical work of European and American foundations to promote and uphold democratic rights, good governance, and human rights through their support of civil society in Israel is under unprecedented threat. We call on international governments to leverage their political influence to force the withdrawal of the bill and ensure the protection of a free and open civil society in Israel.
This bill is a clear attack on democratic free speech and would dramatically shrink civil spaces. It is critical now more than ever to fully support the fight for democratic and civil rights in Israel.
The Netanyahu coalition’s majority will try to expedite the bill through voting within the week. The first round of voting is this coming Sunday, May 28.
Now is the time to act.