JERUSALEM — Controversial bills that would slash foreign funding for dovish Israeli groups have been put on hold after objections by some Cabinet ministers, the state's attorney general and foreign governments, an Israeli official said Monday,
The bills, approved Sunday by a ministerial committee, would limit donations by foreign governments or international bodies to a single group to 20,000 shekels, or about $5,200, a year. They would also slap a 45 percent tax rate on the contributions.
Opponents see the measure as an attempt to muzzle dovish groups critical of the government – and as such, as a dangerous infringement on Israeli democracy. Since their initial approval, the measures have figured prominently in newspaper columns and on radio talk shows.
"The government fears for the security of its regime, not the security of the state," wrote Boaz Okon in Monday's edition of Yediot Ahronot newspaper. "It therefore exploits its power of legislation to shut people's mouths."
Taking the opposing stance, the paper's leading commentator, Nahum Barnea, wrote that "not only right-wingers, but almost every Israeli feels discomfort when a state such as Norway, Britain or the European Union funds left-wing political activity within Israel's borders."
"Involvement of foreign governments in the political game within Israel smells fishy," Barnea said.
The bills were drafted after Israel-based groups funded by foreign sources gave critical testimony about Israeli military conduct during the 2009 war in the Gaza Strip to a U.N.-appointed commission. The panel concluded there was evidence Israel committed war crimes there, but the author of the report later toned down the criticism.
The bills have been referred to the full Cabinet for a debate instead of proceeding to parliament for a vote, the Israeli government official said. No date has been set for the debate, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media about closed discussions.
Western governments oppose the bills and the official said a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the ministerial committee of "international repercussions" if the bills passed parliament.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein called the draft legislation unconstitutional and predicted it would be struck down by Israel's Supreme Court, the Justice Ministry said.
Although the proposed legislation would apply to all "political" groups, critics saw it aimed specifically at leftist organizations, which receive donations from official bodies, while hawkish groups generally receive their millions from wealthy Jews.
The bill is the latest of several pieces of legislation advanced under Netanyahu's government that critics say mean to stifle dissent and pluralism.