The bill to prevent political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel from receiving donations from foreign governments will harm Israeli civil society first and foremost. Today, numerous social organizations receive grants and donations from foreign governments in order to conduct projects on behalf of the Israeli public. The government even learns from these organizations, using their research reports and gleaning knowledge from their activities and conferences.
In recent decades, Israeli governments have cut back the branches of the welfare state, which was designed to grant citizens social security in a variety of areas. Civil society organizations have moved in to take their place. Not in order to replace the state (no organization can replace a state), but to show it what is possible, desirable and necessary to do. These organizations have succeeded in illuminating places where the state is absent or has completely withdrawn.
The new law would harm many of these NGOs, without regard for their quality, goals or the significance of the aid they provide to the general public. The law would hinder organizations that focus on welfare, health, education and other areas. As a result, Israelis who have received educational, social, medical, community or humanitarian aid would be harmed.
Numerous population groups will be left without assistance, and as a result will decline and be unable to make their voices heard and make their unique contribution to society. The proposed law’s greatest damage will occur precisely in those weak places that are far from the public eye and scrutiny of the media. These are the places where most of Israel lives: the periphery, development towns and weak neighborhoods.
A good number of these organizations produce very important research reports that promote policies that put citizens’ and human rights at the center. Thus, there can be no question here of Left or Right. The law as proposed would harm organizations with varied agendas, on both sides of the aisle – those who seek a capitalist society, and those who wish for a social-democratic society; those who want a community-oriented society and those who prefer liberalism.
Jewish thought has survived since the destruction of the Second Temple precisely because of its ability to preserve a cohesive community, which includes both weak and strong. At the moment, there are voices in politics that fear the winds of change. Instead of allowing criticism to be aired, they seek to silence it.
Governments of the world, too often, make mistakes. As citizens, we must return the train to its track, especially when it comes to areas where the state has forgotten its promises. Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises us social justice, equality and other values, but in order to realize them we need prophets willing to stand at the gate and deliver the harshest rebukes. Let’s learn to listen, even if our listening is funded from abroad, even if the words are harsh. A pluralistic Israel is a good thing.
The sponsors of the bill should listen to the wonderful poem by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi: “Even if the gates of the rich are closed, the gates of heaven will never be closed.”