Critics have called the bill a right-wing witch hunt designed to muzzle dissent, especially dissent about Israel’s 49-year military occupation of the West Bank.
Shaked, a computer engineer and a secular politician from Tel Aviv who is a star in the ultra-nationalist religious Zionist party Jewish Home, spoke with The Washington Post last week. This transcript of the interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.
Your proposed legislation is super-controversial in Israel and abroad. Even the Americans have weighed in against this NGO bill, which is unusual. What do you hope to achieve?
First of all, it’s called the “transparency bill.”
The purpose of this bill is the right of the public to know which NGOs are receiving most of their support from foreign governments and therefore representing foreign government interests.
U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro told you the Obama administration has “concerns” about the bill, which is diplomatic language for “We don’t like it.” Shapiro suggested it undermines Israel’s democratic values. What did you say to the ambassador?
I respect Ambassador Shapiro, and we have an open dialogue, but there are two things on this issue that I disagree with him.
First, Israel is a very strong and vibrant democracy. I don’t see how this bill will hurt that. The bill does not affect any liberties, it does not hurt freedom of speech or freedom of organization.
Second, in the U.S. there is a foreign agent law, which I know is different -- in some ways it is tougher and in some ways it’s easier -- but the basic values of the law are the same: transparency.
The principles of the U.S. laws and guidelines share the same values as my law. [Shapiro told Shaked the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act is quite different and the U.S. Embassy issued a statement explaining why.]
What do you think about the foreign governments who fund these Israeli NGOs? You think they’re meddling in Israeli affairs?
I don’t want to generalize. Every country, every donation is a different case, and there are many cases where NGOs are getting support from foreign countries for good purposes.
We need to remember that there are also donations whose purpose is to influence and put pressure on Israel in international forums. For example, some of the NGOs gave incorrect information to the Davis and Goldstone reports [two U.N. reports critical of Israel’s actions in past Gaza wars]. Those reports were distorted because Israel did not cooperate, and instead [the investigators] got information from those NGOs.
There was even a report that a specific government paid Breaking the Silence for every testimony that they got against Israel, even if they were not true or incorrect.
Do you think that NGOs like Breaking the Silence and Peace Now are anti-Israel?
The NGOs are not the same. Peace Now is not against Israel. I personally know that the head of Peace Now is a Zionist and loves Israel. I think in a democracy we should hear those voices as well. Even though I don’t agree with them, they definitely have a place in a democracy like Israel.
Breaking the Silence is a different story. They present a distorted picture. They take one testimony and they generalize. It’s like taking the testimony of an American soldier in Iraq who went into a home to watch a soccer game and then saying that all the American soldiers do this. This presents a totally distorted picture.
Many Israelis don’t like Breaking the Silence, even though they are only a small group of peacenik veterans. They issue a couple of reports a year, who cares?
Inside Israel, they have no effect at all. The problem is with the international community. Breaking the Silence is going to the United States, to campuses, to give lectures and they are presenting a distorted picture. Their influence in Israel is zero, but they have influence abroad, they are the fuel of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement abroad. [BDS seeks to pressure Israel to end the military occupation, among other goals. Israel says the movement is anti-Semitic].
Why have NGOs wear special badges?
The badges are not a big issue. It is not in the draft of the law, and it will be discussed in the Knesset, but anyway, everyone entering the Knesset has to wear a badge. [There are several drafts of the law being voted on; one includes the requirement to wear special badges].
The prime minister has said he does not want it. I will let the Knesset decide. I am very apathetic about this issue, I do not think this is the main issue.
Israel’s liberal NGOs get funding from foreign governments, including the United States. Most conservative NGOs here get their money from wealthy Americans. So if somebody from Breaking the Silence has to wear a badge and say his message is paid for by Denmark, why shouldn't a conservative Israeli think tank say their message is paid for by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson?
If right-wing organizations get the majority of their funds from foreign governments, then they will also be included in the bill.
This is not a left or right thing.
The reason we focus only on government funding and not private donations is because we think there is a difference when a government interferes in this way. For governments, there are diplomatic ways, such as the way Ambassador Shapiro came to talk to me -- that is a diplomatic channel. I don’t think a country needs to bypass diplomacy, they don’t need to attack us under the radar.