Israeli democracy is as healthy as ever

There is a growing desire to wrest political power from unaccountable bodies and restore it to the citizens of Israel, and the proposed NGO bill is intended to do just that

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William Hague has said the bill will undermine "democratic principles"
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Jacob Campbell
On 9 December 2011 10:40

On Wednesday, William Hague decided to wade into domestic Israeli politics by slamming a proposal to limit the funding of NGOs by foreign governments. According to Hague, the bill would have the effect of "undermining the democratic principles" upon which the State of Israel was founded.

Leaving aside the obvious question of whether a British cabinet minister ought to be lecturing another country's parliament on its legislative agenda, we might wonder why our foreign secretary was so keen to embroil himself in what is already a very heated debate within Israel.

After all, if Hague really cared about defending democracy, wouldn't he spend a little less time criticising the Middle East's only democratic state and a little more time voicing concern over, say, the rise of Islamism in Egypt?

A closer reading of Hague's comments reveals the true motivation for his impertinent incursion into Israeli politics. After the initial platitudes about respecting democratic norms and values, it becomes clear that his real concern is with the ability of his own government to interfere in Israel's business. If the Knesset votes to restrict donations to NGOs, Hague warns, it "would have a serious impact on projects funded from the UK".

He isn't wrong. The proposed bill - which recommends a total ban on foreign funding for groups who deny Israel's right to exist and a 45 percent tax on other political NGOs - would decimate the £600,000 a year which the British government currently gives to NGOs in Israel.

But this is no bad thing. And it certainly isn't a problem for democracy.

European governments have been meddling in Israeli politics for years by bankrolling explicitly anti-Israel organisations, many of whom contributed heavily to the discredited Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes. Some of these NGOs, who use the courts to overturn the policies of Israel's democratically elected government, receive over 70 percent of their annual donations from foreign governments.

And their influence cannot be overstated. Last year, the British Minister for the Middle East boasted that the UK's financial backing of Israeli NGOs had resulted in "significant changes" in the rulings of the Israeli justice system.

How can it be democratic for foreign governments to wield such influence over the Israeli decision-making process, at the expense of Israeli voters? It is this question which has prompted the legislation currently being debated in the Knesset.

There is a growing desire to wrest political power from unaccountable bodies and restore it to the citizens of Israel, and the proposed NGO bill is intended to do just that. For this reason, it should be clear that Israeli democracy won't just survive the adoption of the bill - it will flourish because of it.

Jacob Campbell is Press Officer for UKIP Friends of Israel. Visit www.ukipfoi.co.uk for more information, or follow @UKIPFOI on Twitter.

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