UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday said his government is very "concerned" by proposed Israeli legislation that would curtail foreign government funding of political NGOs in Israel. No surprise there, as London recently expressed satisfaction over how significantly it had been able to influence Israeli policy via such funding.
"Britain is deeply concerned by proposals to pass legislation in the Israeli Knesset that would limit foreign funding of NGOs," said Hague. "This would have a serious impact on projects funded from the UK and elsewhere to support universal rights and values and would be seen as undermining the democratic principles the Israeli state is founded on."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leveled similar criticism over the weekend, saying she, too, was worried for Israel's democracy.
Hague and Clinton were reacting to two bills introduced last month in Israel's Knesset that would effectively bar funding of Israeli NGOs by foreign entities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warned that in their current form, the bills would not stand up in a court of law, so he allowed them to die and called for a new draft bill to be formulated.
That new bill, which Hague commented on, divides Israeli NGOs into three categories: those that deny Israel's right to exist and call for subversion of the state, those that are political but do not try to subvert the government and local authorities, and those that are non-political.
According to the draft law, subversive NGOs will be forbidden from receiving funding from foreign government, while non-subversive political NGOs seeking to influence government policy will be subjected to new taxes. Non-political NGOs will not be affected by the law.
The list of subversive and political NGOs that will be hit are almost all left-wing organizations that have enjoyed funding from the British government to the tune of 600,000 pounds a year, the most it gave to NGOs in any country in the world.
Commenting on that funding in Parliament last year, UK Minister for Mideast Affairs, Alistair Burt, said, "Since we began supporting these programs some significant changes have been made in the Israeli justice system, both civilian and military, and in the decisions they make. They have also raised a significant debate about these matters."
A growing number of Israelis have become frustrated by what they see as outside interference in their national political debate, especially as it concerns the Israeli-Arab peace process. Israelis argue that it is they who will pay the price for missteps in the peace process (such as the Gaza withdrawal), while those who foist policies upon them suffer few, if any, consequences.
It is worth noting that most left-wing Israeli NGOs that champion Palestinian nationalist agendas that challenge Israel's right to exit are unable to drum up enough support at home. These groups almost wholly rely on foreign funding.