Questions from a different angle – the NGO funding clamp-down

November 17, 2011

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Two bills have passed the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, aimed at preventing foreign governments’ funding of NGOs in Israel. In essence, the government has just voted to curb the income of left-leaning NGOs. If they receive money from foreign governmental bodies they will either lose their tax-free status or have the size of their donations drastically reduced.

It would seem to be an axiom that healthy democracies need NGOs to bring to the fore information and issues that would otherwise be hidden from the public. Dirty linen is rarely washed efficiently without committed souls going looking for it. Indeed many in the Jewish world view the outspoken honesty of Israel’s NGOs as the country’s saving grace.

When another democratic country is funding such organizations we should recognize that this is the act of a critical friend, helping us to realize the aspirations of our own Declaration of Independence, that Israel “be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”.


This new law also suffers from deep inconsistencies. Why limit foreign government funding yet not individual foreign donors? In what way is the Hotline for Migrant Workers punishable for the ‘sins’ of Peace Now?

In the Jewish world, social activism has become the animating spirit for the young, and as such has been seen as a way to increase their involvement with Israel. Significant projects have sought to connect activists in the Jewish world with their counterparts in Israel. When next they look, they may find some of their Israeli counterparts have disappeared in the funding chasm that opens up when NGOs are defined as political.

Yet one cannot help but wonder why such organizations rely so heavily on foreign government funding in the first place?

To what extent do these respected NGOs represent the will of the people, if they cannot maintain themselves with support from Israeli donors and Jewish donors in the Diaspora alone?

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