Netanyahu is working to limit free speech in Israel, Labor leader says

In response to cabinet’s approval of bill limiting funding to human rights groups, Shelly Yachimovich says PM pushing away from global democracies; Tzipi Livni: Israel should be a country in which everyone can voice his or her opinion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has set upon itself to limit free speech and declare war on Israel’s judicial system, Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich said on Sunday, adding that a wave of recent Likud bills was pushing Israel away from the democratic world.

Yachimovich’s comment came after, earlier Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved two bills that would limit foreign funding for Israeli human rights organizations.

Netanyahu had already announced support for one of the bills, sponsored by two members of his Likud party – MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis – which would cap foreign governments’ contributions to “political” non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, is throwing its weight behind the second initiative brought forh by party MK Fania Kirshenbaum, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments’ donations to NGOs ineligible for state funding.

In response to the cabinet’s decision, and with several contentious bills in the Knesset pipeline, Yachimovich said in a statement Sunday that Netanyahu’s Likud-led cabinet has set out to”declare war against the judicial system, injure free specch and push itself further away from the democratic, enlightened world.”

“Netanyahu cannot hide behind his party’s MKs anymore and wash his hands from the deluge of undemocratic bills,” the Labor chief said, adding that her party would “continue to struggle with all its might for the preservation of democratic values and will work to thwart similar bills.”

Yachimovich also said that the premier must “open his eyes and conduct himself as [former Prime Minister] Menachem Begin did when he put the rule of law above all and would not participate in the destruction of Israel’s strongholds of democracy.”

Also commenting on the cabinet’s move to hand over the contentious bill to the Knesset’s approval, Opposition leader and Kadima chairperson Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu’s coalition of promoting “silencing” bills, saying that each member of the cabinet was “trying to prove he was more nationalist than his peers.”

“This government, acting out of trepidation, fear, and self preservation, has been passing a string of bills that are meant to shut mouths and bills that would cause justices to have to thank politicians a day after being elected into office.”

Livni said that “Israel was strong enough to not have to shut mouths and be the kind of country in which everyone can voice their opinions, even if we don’t appreciate it.”

In yet another response to the cabinet’s decision, the New Israel Fund (NIF) said in a statement it was dismayed and disappointed that legislation defunding Israel’s progressive civil society passed the cabinet today with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s support.”

“Despite widespread condemnation of these measures specifically designed to destroy Israel’s progressive NGO community, the cabinet’s dedication to Israeli democracy seems to be only a hasbara soundbite, now sacrificed to fear of dissent and political expediency,” the statement said, adding that the NIF and our allied organizations will continue to fight this legislation as it progresses to the Knesset.”

“If this legislation passes, Israel will become the only Western democracy to outlaw outside funding for NGOs it designates as ‘political.’ We call on all Israelis and lovers of Israel worldwide to reject this latest assault on the values and freedoms maintained by every real democracy,” the statement said.

One of the bill’s sponsors, MKs Tzipi Hotovely, said following the cabinet meeting that Israel “passed a major hurdle en route to cleansing Israel’s policies from foreign influence, of the kind that do not wish Israel’s favor.”

Hotovely criticized the negative reaction the cabinet meeting received from opposition parties, calling it “hypocrisy.”

“It is the right and duty of the State of Israel to conduct itself according to the will of the Israeli public, as opposed to succumbing to foreign attempts to buy influence within Israel,” she added.

Likud MK Danny Danon called the bill’s approval “good news to all those involved in the Zionist enterprise,” adding that an organization that subverts state authority should be outlawed.”

Danon said the bill was a first step on the way to “uprooting the lesion that is the extreme Left from Israeli society.”

( / 13.11.2011)

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