Questions from another 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. 

It is argued that this is an anti-democratic move, restricting citizens’ rights to openly examine and critique their government’s actions. Yet the restriction is not on critique – these NGOs remain free to continue their work – but on the ability of foreign governments to intervene on a primary political issue in Israel. 

It would seem that defending the rights of Israeli citizens to decide on their fate, free from external influence, should be a foundation of a democracy. What did the Declaration of Independence mean when it called for the Jewish People to “be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State”, if it remains so open to interference by other nations? 

 

The objectivity of democracy has a checkered history in Israel. When residents of Gush Katif were removed from their homes in a policy most of the country had voted against, there were fewer voices raised in defense of democracy. Similarly when the only mouthpiece of the right-wing at the time, Radio Arutz Sheva, was closed down, few seemed concerned with freedom of speech (while many mourned the demise of the equally illegal radio station Abie Nathan’s Voice of Peace ). 

For good or for ill, political bias is a fact of sovereign life. Indeed, some would argue it is a relief that finally – after so many years of misrepresentation – a right-wing government voted in by a majority of Israelis is beginning to behave like a right-wing government. In this sense also, democracy is healthily at play. 

We would only ask whether this bill, aimed at preventing hostile foreign interference, might smack too much of domestic retaliation than international defense? Is the government being sufficiently careful not to repeat the mistakes of its political adversaries when they were in power? As Hillel suggested, in a place where there are no humans, try to behave like a human (Pirkei Avot, 2:6). Can we rise above the desire to settle old scores when the unity of the Jewish People is in such a fragile state?

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