Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The main reason that pernicious organizations like Shovrim Shtika and Machsom Watch are able to get traction is that they are rolling in EU government money. Lots of it. In total, the EU is handing out tens of millions of Euros to organizations devoted, in one form another, to weakening Israel's ability to defend itself.

The question is what legal steps Israel can take to defend itself. There will be a conference on this issue in the Knesset on December 1 that will discuss, inter alia, some legislative proposals for dealing with the phenomenon.

In order to understand the issues here, it is important to first understand that many of the organizations in question do not exist as Israeli entities. Even Peace Now only recently began the process of forming an Israeli legal entity.

The main part of any legislation to regulate these organizations is to require them to register (as in the American FARA). That is, any organization receiving money from a foreign state (or similar entity, like the UN or EU) for engaging in political activity in Israel must register, whether or not it already exists as an Israeli entity. Failing to do so is a crime for which the principals are personally liable as individuals. Having registered, they will need to report all contributions above some threshold immediately upon receipt. This will expose many governments who have been funding these organizations but taking all sorts of measures to hide the funding.

Several comments in anticipation of the cynics.

First, I know that hok ha-amutot already has such provisions. However, hok ha-amutot only requires reporting almost two years after receipt of the funding, long after anyone will take notice. Second, as I mentioned, many if not most of these organizations are not Israeli amutot.

Second, we have anticipated the possibility of attempts to circumvent the law by funneling money through intermediaries. The proposed law is written to prevent that, though -- like any law -- it is not airtight.

Third, indeed there are some governments that don't give a damn about being exposed and the formality of requiring registering and reporting by their beneficiaries will not deter them. There are two possible approaches that can be taken to deal with this. The first is to live with it in the hope that the phenomenon will be limited and the exposure will at least harm the prestige of the recipient organizations in certain (certainly not all) Israeli forums. The second approach is to add a provision that gives the Foreign Minister discretion to forbid foreign state funding in cases that constitute inappropriate interference by foreign governments in Israeli affairs.

As you might guess, the moderates (within Likud) prefer the more benign first approach. The hardliners (I use this term non-pejoratively) prefer something even stronger than the second approach, namely, a blanket prohibition on foreign funding of political activity. That sounds good but doesn't translate well into actual legislation. Political activity is a hard thing to define and it is probably best to define it as broadly as possible. A blanket prohibition would inadvertently capture all sorts of benign organizations. Attempts to find some definition that lets in the good guys and keeps out the bad guys are not very promising. The Foreign Minister's discretion is about as close as we're likely to come to something workable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Justice Minister Yacov Ne'eman is pushing forward with the idea of splitting up the duties of the Attorney General. The idea is perfectly obvious and natural since there is a clear conflict between heading the state's prosecution apparatus (which is often used against members of government) and serving as the government's legal adviser and lawyer.

The left is resisting the split since the AG is effectively appointed by the left (the search committee is headed by a retired SC Justice who is appointed by the Chief Justice) and is generally beholden to the Court if he wants to get appointed to it one day (as were Zamir, Shamgar, Barak and Rubinstein). Thus, the left always wants the AG to run the country, which in fact he generally does. This is because the threat of prosecution that he wields effectively turns his advice into a command.

Anyway, Ofir Pines and a few of his Labor colleagues sent a letter to the head of their party, Ehud Barak, demanding that Barak oppose the proposal to split the AG's duties. The letter is the usual string of platitudes and shallow pieties one expects from the likes of Pines, but it contains one line that deserves immortality.

"The splitting of the duties of the AG will lead to the shattering of the status of the AG, will bring about dangerous politicization of the functioning of the government and will deal a mortal blow to the rule of law."

You've got to be asking yourself: who should be doing politics if not the government? How does one politicize it and why is that dangerous?

The answer to these questions is that if you represent a small minority of the voters but you think that you are the sole defender of absolute justice and therefore ought to be running the country anyway, representative democracy really is a bad thing.

Read that sentence again, mentally replacing the word "politicization" with "democratization" and you'll understand the workings of the Bolshevik mind.

(Next up, I hope to write about a law I'm drafting to deal with NGOs that get money from foreign governments to meddle in Israeli politics. )