Two proposals endorsed by a Knesset committee would be a reason for side-splitting laughter, if their authors were not speaking so proudly of their accomplishments.
One proposal, authored by one of the lesser lights in the Likud delegation, would ban foreign governments or international organizations, such as the UN, from donating over NIS 20,000 to political NGOs that seek to influence Israeli policy.
Another, the work of an Israel our Home MK who is also not on the list of Israeli politicians most of you recognize, would impose a 45 percent tax on donations from foreign governments to any NGO in Israel. http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=245407&R=R1
Both proposals claimed the support of a Likud member who is not a lesser light, i.e, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Other Likud MKs, as well as a large number of centrist and left-of-center MKs and numerous public personalities condemned the proposals as anti-democratic, poorly drafted, and likely to increase hostility toward Israel in important places. Prominent among the opponents were Likud MKs Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. Both Meridor and Begin are conservative Zionists with a record of independent thinking. Begin, the son of . . . , has earned his own reputation as a modest and soft-spoken politician who is not afraid to speak truth to power, even if costs him an outsider's role in government.
Among the problems in the proposals are definitions of the donors and recipients meant to be limited. The language would include some left of center NGOs that are chronic critics of the Israeli government, but not others--equally inclined to make trouble for the government--that are different kinds of organizations than those mentioned in the proposals. And while the proposals would ban donations from governments, per se, some of the objectionable donations come from organizations not clearly associated with a national government, even though their funding comes from a government budget.
Critics charge that the proposals are overtly political, aimed at cutting off the funding of left-of-center organizations that speak in favor of accommodation with Palestinians, civil rights of Israelis generally, the rights of Israeli Arabs or the Palestinians of the West Bank, and other causes viewed as annoyances by the right of center politicians who authored and support the proposals.
Opponents charge that the proposals do not limit foreign donations to right of center religious and nationalist organizations, including some of the troublemakers concerned with settling Jews in hostile Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and ultra-Orthodox extremists who would extend the separation of sexes to Israel's public transportation and sidewalks, and ban pictures of women in public places or women performers before mixed audiences. The responses of those supporting the current proposals is that these donations come from individuals and not governmental bodies.
Supporters of the proposals have been loud is saying that only Israel is a target of foreign governments seeking to influence its policies by donations to NGOs that are chronic opponents of government policy.
Without doing any serious research--which most likely come up against fudged data and other kinds of disinformation--I am inclined to think that no government does more than Israel to support organizations in other countries meant to influence the policies of their governments.
One does not have to endorse the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to recognize that there is a coterie of individuals and organizations, closely allied with the Israeli government, that seeks to influence policies in various countries.
AIPAC may be the most prominent, but it is not alone. A number of countries have organizations labeled as Friends of Israel. Not all that different are the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (which itself represents 50 organizations), and other institutions with a good record of looking after Jewish and Israeli interests.
Not the same thing as the Israeli NGOs funded by foreign governments? Perhaps the budgets of AIPAC, Friends of Israel and other pro-Jewish or pro-Israel organizations come mostly from in-country individual membership dues and contributions. But no one in their right mind should claim that they operate without coordinating their activities with Israeli officials. Moreover, major fund raising occasions feature prominent Israeli officials who travel--most likely at Israeli government expense--to speak to their memberships and assert the importance of various postures currently on the agendas of their government.
The two proposals currently awaiting further action in the Knesset have a close cousin waiting initial action by a Knesset committee. This is a bill that would require individuals being considered for elevation to the Supreme Court to appear before a Knesset committee, with a majority of the committee able to veto an individual who does not pass muster.
This proposal is supported by the same cluster of MKs who have supported a ban or tax on foreign government donations to NGOs. And likewise, the effort to reform the selection of judges has provoked wide opposition. It is said to threaten the politicization of the Supreme Court. Until now, Supreme and lesser court judges have been selected by committees with some political representation, but dominated by sitting judges. Advocates of the status quo claim that it is wise to isolate the courts from partisan politics, and to select those individuals most skilled in "objective" applications of the law.
Those wanting to reform the process scoff as such claims, and assert that the the Supreme Court, in particular, has a left-wing, secular, Ashkenazi bias, with only occasional and token representatives of conservatives, religious Jews, Jews of Middle Eastern backgrounds, or non-Jews. Proponents of change claim that sitting judges select candidates who resemble themselves in background and political inclinations. They cite the practice in the United States, where appointments to higher courts are overtly political, with the president and Senators examining candidates on their record and their likely postures on controversial issues.
Most likely Israel will get through both of these storms.
The legislatures of other countries have no shortage of members with bright ideas, anxious for headlines, and capable of riling the media and their colleagues. For those members, all legislatures have back benches, located far from the seats of those who ponder the important issues.
None of the current proposals may earn final passage by the Knesset. Each of the three noted here have prompted ranking professionals in ministries having to implement them to express reservations. Those views will figure in the votes of some Knesset Members, and will affect the eventual administration of whatever may pass the parliament.
Even if none of them pass, however, proponents may be able to claim a bit of influence. Foreign governments may shy away from overt contributions to the most leftist Israeli organizations, especially when the Israeli government is right of center. Supreme Court judges may moderate whatever tendencies exist to decide against a measure that has passed the Knesset, out of fear of an anti-Court, draconian measure passing the Knesset in a way they cannot reject. Legal scholars will remember the case of US Supreme Court Justices who came to accommodate FDR's New Deal even though the President failed to win passage of a "court-packing" measure to increase the number of favorable Justices.
Once again we may see that government is more complex than party politics.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 14, 2011 04:12 AM