Government committee approves bills limiting funds to human rights organizations

Posted: November 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation have approved two bill proposals aimed at limiting the ability of the UN and foreign governments to financially support human rights organizations in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the bills, increasing the likelihood of a Knesset majority for both legislative initiatives.

The first bill, sponsored by Likud MK Ophir Akunis seeks to limit all foreign funding for “political organizations” to 20,000 NIS (some 5,000$) per year while the other, proposed by Yisrael Beitinu’s MK Fania Kirschenbaum seeks to levy a 45 percent taxation rate on all foreign state funding of NGOs. The Knesset is expected to vote on both bills in the coming weeks.

Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of The Israeli Association for Civil Rights, has said in response to the decision that “the current government is leading an attack on the foundations of democracy – the Supreme Court’s very independence was endangered today, as are the freedom of operations for human rights organizations.” Read his related post on +972 here.

Haaretz reported on Sunday that the European Union and the United States are exerting pressure on Israel to scrap the bill in light of its ramifications for Israeli democracy.

UPDATE: Dr. Ishai Menuchin, Executive Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel:

Approval of the Law Proposal limiting foreign funding for NGOs by “the Ministerial Committee on legislation” places Israel in step with non-democratic societies in the world. With this decision we have slipped further down the slippery slope of eliminating democracy in Israel. The eleven ministers who supported the proposed law (amongst them the education, culture and welfare ministers!) demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of the concept of freedom of association in a democracy, an abject lack of commitment to democracy and the strongest desire to stifle voices of those with dissenting opinions.

UPDATE II: Likud MK Danny Danon posted the following message on his Facebook page:

The Ministry Committee for Legislation’s decision to approve the bill that restricts left-wing organizations from receiving funding from foreign groups is good news for all supporters of Zionism. An Organization which advocates against the State should be outlawed. Ceasing their funds is the first step in removing the peripheral leftists from Israeli society. This who are against the investigation of the source of financing of these leftist organizations will have to accept that the law will ultimately end the interference of foreign countries in internal affairs of the State of Israel!

The rabbis’ racist letter: many words, little action

Posted: December 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

While public figures in Israel condemned the latest rabbinical Fatwa against renting homes to Arabs, little to no action was taken against its authors. Also, some secular Jewish communities are introducing their own version of the racist letter

Almost two weeks passed since dozens of Israeli rabbis – most of them civil servants, working for Israeli municipalities –signed a letter forbidding renting homes to Arabs. During this period, strong condemnations for the letter were heard from public figures, but little action was taken against the rabbis themselves.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke against the letter, and so did Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and President Shimon Peres. Two very important religious figures – the Ashkenazi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas – condemned the letter. As a result, at least three of the signing Rabbis withdrew their names from it.

Several Jewish research institutes, most of them left-leaning, published an ad on Haaretz against the letter. Many rabbis and 900 hundreds former Yeshiva students signed public letters opposing the racist nature of the rabbis’ ruling. The Israeli Bar Association issued a condemning statement.

These were positive developments that proved that there are still many Israelis that would stand up against racism and hate. We shouldn’t ignore their voice or downplay its importance.

Another encouraging sign was the response the rabbis’ letter got from the American Jewish community. Some 500 rabbis signed a public petition - issued by the New Israel Fund – condemning the letter. This initiative got good media coverage in Israel, including a half-page article on yesterday’s Yedioth Ahronoth.

The problem is that so far, no concrete action was taken against the rabbis who signed the letter (with the exception of the Government Attorney that, under some public pressure, ordered his office to examine whether the rabbis violated a law forbidding racist incitement). With no official action, the nature of the letter remains in the sphere of the legitimate public debate – something that’s similar to discussing the pros and cons of rape.

When public officials announce that renting apartments to Arab citizens is forbidden – and that Jewish communities should outcast those renting homes to Arabs – action is the only solution. It’s not the time for political calculations. In such a moment, real leadership sends the Civil Guard to escort and protect the members of the minority under threat.

So far, Israeli leaders – including Labor party, which insists on staying in this government – fail this test.

The danger of inaction is clear: it makes racism a legitimate political choice (adopted by most of the Jewish public, according to a recent poll). Already, someone opened a hotline for Jews who want to report people who rent Apartments to Arabs (I encourage readers to jam it with made-up information; the number is 0522258183). The result: hundreds more rabbis have added their names to the letter, and there are even reports on a “soft” version of the letter - one which will enable more to sign it.

What’s even worse is that you could also hear voices in the center saying things along the lines of “I don’t support the letter, but…”. Such claim is made in a bizarre op-ed on Haaretz today by Ruth Gavizon, the former head of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel who turned into a neo-Zionist. While condemning the racist tones of the rabbis’ letter, Gavizon frames it within “a legitimate debate” over the notion of separate communities:

It would be a mistake to have the public response take the form of indicting or firing the rabbis, separating religion and state or denying the legitimacy of the state’s Jewish character. Ranting and raving could prevent us from seeing the picture in all its complexity and from confronting the authority of the rabbis in this country, both as regards the content and “Jewish” morality of their positions and as regards the residential dwelling patterns of different communities here.

The controversy over desirable living patterns for Jews and Arabs and the use of the law to obtain them is not dictated by religion. Some advocate “color blindness” as the only normative approach to civil equality, on the assumption that this leads to greater integration. Some advocate complete segregation. And some, like me, prefer more diverse social arrangements that would provide different communities with various living options, based on their level of integration and inner cohesiveness.

Gavison is not alone. Just today, Haaretz reported that another Jewish community in the north is working on a charter that would forbid Arabs from joining it. The “separate communities” idea is the upper-class, secular, version of the rabbis’ letter.