November 13 – November 21 2011
Recent Anti-Democratic Legislation
November 13 | Curtailing Foreign Funding to Civil Society Organizations
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation has voted yesterday in favor of backing two private bills intended to restrict funding from “foreign state entities” to Israeli NGOs. 11 ministers voted in favor and 5 against. However, an appeal was made as part of the vote at the ministerial committee, and therefore the bills are expected to be brought for discussion by the government’s full cabinet before they can proceed to a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum.
The first bill, officially titled “The Associations Law (Amendment – Banning Foreign Diplomatic Entities’ Support of Political Associations in Israel),” attempts to set monetary limitations on Israeli human rights organizations. According to this bill, an Israeli NGO that seeks to influence state policies would not be allowed to receive donations of more than 20,000 NIS (roughly $5400) from foreign state entities. The second bill, proposed by MK Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu) seeks to amend the Income Tax Order so that funding from foreign state entities to Israeli NGOs will be subject to a 45% taxation rate.
For more on these bills, including their translations to English and ACRI’s position paper – please read the post on ACRI’s website.
November 13 | Approval of Supreme Court Justices by the Knesset – Postponed
Another bill that was scheduled to be discussed yesterday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation is a bill that seeks to enable the Knesset to veto appointments of Supreme Court Justices. However, the vote has been postponed due to public pressure and due to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s position that this bill raises constitutional difficulties and concerns about the politicization of the judiciary.
The bill, tabled in July by the Chairperson of the Knesset House Committee, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), and the Chairperson of the Coalition, MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) states that every judge and president appointed to the Supreme Court would have to undergo a hearing in the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, which can then veto the appointment. Currently, only the 3 representatives of the Supreme Court in the Judicial Selection Committee can veto an appointment. Furthermore, the bill seeks to cancel the “seniority” method, according to which the longest serving justice in the Supreme Court is automatically appointed as president once the previous president retires. As stated above – the government’s vote on this bill has been postponed, but several other bills intended to change or weaken the Supreme Court are currently in various stages of legislation – and this bill is only a part of a general assault on the court, one of the very foundations of Israeli democracy.
November 14 | Bill to Prevent Infiltration
The Knesset’s Committee on Internal Affairs has discussed this bill in preparation for its second-third reading in the plenum. This bill, sponsored by the government, comes after the government had to drop a similar proposal in July 2010, due to harsh public criticism.
The declared purpose of this amendment is to deter asylum seekers, who have been entering Israel in recent years, from doing so. This, by proposing a three-year minimum imprisonment of asylum seekers and refugees and of their children, even if there is no possibility or intention of deporting them. The proposed bill is particularly strict with asylum seekers from “hostile areas” (e.g. the Darfur region of Sudan) and enables their indefinite imprisonment.
Furthermore, the bill sets a five year prison sentence on those who offer humanitarian aid to refugees – and even fifteen years should a person persists in offering aid after being prosecuted. This continues the trend of delegitimization of human rights organizations, by criminalizing any assistance – medical, legal, humanitarian – provided to those the law defines as “infiltrators.”
The bill has been scheduled for further discussion in the committee.
Upcoming Anti-Democratic Legislation
November 21 (estimated) | Libel without Proof of Damages
The Knesset plenum is scheduled to vote next week in the first reading of a bill, officially titled “Defamation Prohibition Law (Amendment –Adding Legal Remedies),” which seeks to dramatically raise the amount of punitive compensation for libel, without proof of actual damage. The first reading was initially scheduled for November 7, but has since then been postponed several times.
From the explanatory notes to the legislation and from explanations proffered in the Knesset by their sponsors, the purpose of these bills is to “punish” those who speak slander, with a special focus on the press. ACRI is opposed to these amendments, due to the fact that they infringe on freedom of expression and freedom of the press for the benefit of possibly unfounded lawsuits.
The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), has also criticized the bill, saying that “freedom of expression is facing a legislative onslaught from within the Knesset […] The media has earned this initiative, but the bill is disproportionate and will lead to the shutting down of small media outlets, while impeding the others’ ability to play their part in Israeli democracy.”