by Cynthia Blank
In meeting with Justice Minister, US envoy expresses 'government's concerns' over bill requiring NGOs to declare foreign funding.
United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro expressed concern on behalf of his government Sunday in a meeting with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over the "Transparency Law" she is promoting before the Knesset.
The bill would require Israelis NGOs who receive more than half of their funds from foreign states to disclose their sources of funding and identify themselves as "foreign agents" when lobbying MKs.
A senior American official told Haaretz that during the meeting Shapiro stressed to Shaked that despite her assertions, the bill bears no similarity to legislation in the US.
In addition, the US Embassy in Israel released on Monday a highly unusual statement regarding the meeting.
"Among the topics discussed was the government’s draft NGO bill," stated the announcement. "Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the Minister, and noted the US government’s concerns on the matter."
"The Ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society," it continued.
"He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard."
In an additional statement, the US Embassy further sought to dismiss comparisons between Shaked's bill and a set of US laws mandating the registration of foreign interest lobbyists.
"The draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities. That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works,” the embassy asserted.
"FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law."
The embassy concluded its statement saying, "Ambassador Shapiro and Minister Shaked agreed to continue their dialogue on this and other issues of mutual concern."
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