An Israeli bill slammed by critics in the UK and abroad as “political persecution” of human rights groups has moved a step closer to becoming law.

Ayelet Shaked

Ayelet Shaked

The proposed legislation, pushed by far-right Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is aimed at non-governmental organisations (NGOs) majority funded from overseas.

Israeli parliamentarians backed the bill by 50 votes to 43 on Tuesday. It will require the NGOs – many of which are critical of the government – to declare the source of their funding in official reports. 

The groups it affects are among the only critical voices of Israeli policy in Israel, and organisations in the UK this week accused the bill’s supporters of seeking to “silence dissent”.

The move has been strongly resisted by Israeli Opposition leader Isaac Herzog and by Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador, who said: “Governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”

In the UK, the New Israel Fund was withering in its criticism. “No democracy worthy of its name targets only civil society organisations that disagree with the government,” said NIF chief executive Adam Ognall. 

“No true democracy targets organisations that receive funding from friendly foreign governments while allowing others that do not even reveal the names of their donors to escape scrutiny.”

He added: “Those who want to protect Israel’s future as a democratic state must speak out against this bill and, more importantly, join us in working against future efforts of those who seek to silence dissent.”

Ognall described it as part of a “war against the human rights community” and about “the special privileges and dirty tactics of the ultra-nationalist lobby”.

It remains to be seen whether Israel’s politicians heed the warnings from the country’s supporters that the bill is counter-intuitive in a democracy.