Initiatives Targeting Human Rights and Civil Society Organizations in the 25th Knesset - Follow-up
Persecution of human rights and civil society organizations as part of the constitutional coup in Israel
Since its formation, the current Israeli government has been working relentlessly to undermine the country’s democratic system and curtail human rights. This includes the right to equality and the protections afforded to minorities, furthering the entrenchment of the occupation. These efforts represent new heights in the anti-democratic trends witnessed over the past decade. As the constitutional coup continues to draw broad public attention, the government is also advancing a slew of initiatives that, although not officially part of its “judicial reform,” effectively form an inseparable part of the coup underway in Israel. These measures are poised to transform the country beyond recognition and further undermine democracy and human rights.
Undermining and hounding human rights and civil society organizations is a key component of the coup and explicitly forms part of the current Knesset and government’s agenda. It is pursued through a campaign of incitement and delegitimization, as well as initiatives designed to deter, intimidate and harm the organizations. These efforts are advanced by MKs and cabinet members at the highest levels, alongside a host of right-wing organizations dedicated to this work.
Attempts to incapacitate human rights and civil society organizations who voice criticism of the government or promote agendas contrary to its worldview constitute a distinctly anti-democratic tactic that harms freedom of expression and association while undermining pluralism and diversity. Such tactics are a feature of shrinking democratic space, a process that has been taking place in recent years, not only in Israel, but also abroad, including in Russia, Poland and Hungary, where human rights and civil society organizations have also been targeted. Suppressing civil society or diversity within it are common to all non-democratic regimes in the world, and unheard of in Western democracies.
NGO persecution: Incitement and delegitimization
Anti-NGO action is manifested primarily in incitement and efforts to publicly delegitimize progressive civil society organizations in general and, more particularly, organizations that focus on human rights, peace, the OPT, refugees, Jewish pluralism and religious freedom. The attack was not instigated by the current government. Over the past decade and previously, NGOs have been targeted by many extensive public campaigns, which have had a deleterious impact on the perception of human rights in Israel in general and, more specifically, on attitudes toward human rights and civil society organizations. This negative public sentiment has served as fertile ground for the work of right-wing elements, including successfully lobbying public and political actors to refrain from cooperating with such organizations. Delegitimization was also aided by liberal actors who feared being associated with the negative image the right-wing had affiliated to the NGOs. The campaign of incitement and delegitimization continues with greater intensity under the current government.
Incitement and delegitimization rely, in part, on misleading and sometimes false and manipulative rhetoric about NGO activities, financing and goals. Some examples include referring to the so-called foreign political entities, that provide funding for certain NGOs, as hostile countries, despite being Israel’s strongest allies and most generous financial supporters. Moreover, targeting the attack on funds received from “foreign political entities” while ignoring entirely non-transparent private donations to right-wing organizations that dramatically influence Israel’s internal affairs. For example, the private funding given to the Kohelet Policy Forum, settlements and national parks, Yisrael Hayom newspaper and more. Employing ideologically loaded terminology in the text of laws opens the door to political interpretation against NGOs (such as “works against the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”); drawing parallels to laws in other countries, such as the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, which are irrelevant to the discussion about Israeli NGOs.
NGO persecution: Legislation and other initiatives
Over the years, the campaign of incitement has gone hand-in-hand with specific initiatives designed to effectively incapacitate NGOs. These initiatives include targeting NGO funding sources, labeling NGOs as foreign agents, criminalizing their activities, undermining their methods of operation, and more. Legislation is the main route for pursuing these initiatives; however, various administrative processes have been politicized with the goal of being deployed against NGOs. In recent years, the legislative process has been completed in a number of initiatives that target civil society organizations: a law that imposes special reporting requirements on NGOs that receives more than 50% of their donations from foreign political entities, and an obligation to declare this to public officials and in campaigns; changes to national service accreditation criteria; the boycott law; the Nakba law; and the V15 law. We have also seen attempts at political intervention in the award of approval under Section 46A of the Income Tax Ordinance (Tax Credit for Donors) and more.
Below is a list of key initiatives launched since the formation of the current government:
Coalition agreements: The coalition agreement between Otzma Yehudit and Likud (Section 136) stipulates that legislation to tax foreign government donations to Israeli NGOs would be advanced within six months.
Proposed Amendment to the Income Tax Ordinance (Taxation of a Contribution from a Foreign State Entity) 5783-2023: A bill introduced by MK Ariel Kallner (2329/25) (Hebrew) seeks to establish that a non-profit organization that receives a donation from a foreign state entity and works to promote a public goal via the Knesset, the courts, the government and its authorities, a local authority or paid public advocacy, or assists in same, will not receive recognition as a public institution, with everything entailed, including tax credits under Section 46 of the Income Tax Ordinance. Additionally, such an organization would be taxed at a rate of 65% on income and would not be considered a non-profit for purposes of value-added tax. The proposed text is extremely broad and would apply to a wide range of institutions and organizations in many fields. Status: The bill was presented to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on June 28, 2023, but was removed from the agenda due to public and international pressure.
Courts Bill (Amendment - Transparency on Organizations Receiving Support) 5783-2023: According to a bill introduced by MK Ariel Kellner and others (3174/25) (Hebrew), a non-profit funded mainly by a foreign state entity would be required to state this in every petition submitted to the High Court of Justice. Additionally, when a party of a petition is “a recipient of support” that is funded mainly by a foreign state entity, the Ministry of Justice would be required to forward the petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Status: introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Proposed Amendment to the Income Tax Ordinance (Taxation of Contributions from Foreign Entities) 5783-2023: A bill introduced by MK Ariel Kellner (3502/25) (Hebrew) seeks to deny organizations, mainly funded by foreign state entities, the right to a tax exemption in Israel and levy a 50% tax on any donation from a foreign state entity. Status: introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Basic Law: The Judiciary (Restriction of Standing): A bill introduced by MK Moshe Saada and others (547/25) seeks to limit access to the High Court of Justice by parties that were not directly harmed by the actions of an authority, in other words, to prevent human rights and civil society organizations from petitioning the High Court as public petitioners. Limiting standing in court has been mentioned as one of the elements of the broad judicial reform advanced by Minister of Justice Levin. Status: Introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Basic Law: The Judiciary (Amendment Restriction of Standing for Corporations Receiving Funding from a Foreign State Entity): According to a bill introduced by MK Hanoch Milwidsky (3649/25), an organization funded mainly by foreign countries would be barred from petitioning the High Court as a public petitioner and would only be able to represent a victim. Status: introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Proposed Amendment to the Criminal Code (Amendment - Prohibition on Documenting IDF Soldiers) 5783-2023: A bill introduced by MK Eli Dallal (2400/25) seeks to prevent human rights organizations from documenting IDF soldiers. Documentation is a crucial tool for advocacy organizations fighting against the occupation. Status: introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Proposed Amendment to the Penal Code (Amendment - Prohibition on Solicitation of Minors to Secularity) 5783-2023: A bill introduced by MK Israel Eichler (1560/25) targeting organizations that help individuals who renounce Jewish orthodoxy. Status: introduced for preliminary reading, not yet advanced.
Promotion of the “foreign agents” law: The Minister of Foreign Affairs (Hebrew) has announced that he would consider advancing a law, inspired by the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, to prevent intervention by foreign countries and other foreign parties in Israel’s internal affairs. The alleged purpose is to guarantee transparency and deny financial benefits to parties defined as foreign agents. However, the work carried out by human rights and civil society organizations in Israel bears no resemblance to the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, and presenting it as such is a distortion designed to lend legitimacy to the proposed law.
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussion on “handling of associations that support terrorism and deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state by the Registrar of Associations”: The Constitution Committee is planning to hold a discussion on the issue (scheduled for June 14, 2023, and postponed for technical reasons). The objective is to single out organizations that meet politically biased criteria and advance administrative measures to curtail their work. The request that instigated the discussion was part of a recent campaign targeting HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual over its work representing Palestinians in proceedings concerning family unification, house demolitions, prison conditions, etc.
Education Committee discussion on the Ben Shemen youth village renting out its facilities for a summer camp run by The Parents Circle – Families Forum - Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace: On June 19, 2023, the Knesset Education Committee held a discussion in an attempt to prevent the summer camp from running and stripping the youth village’s funding over the issue. During the discussion, threats and severe accusations were made, harming not only existing activities but also producing a potential chilling effect on other institutions and organizations.
In July, the media reported that on orders from Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli tax authority was looking into stripping Amnesty International Israel of donor tax exemption (Section 46A) due to an alleged failure to meet the requirements of the boycott law.