A Tax on Free Speech?


A Tax on Free Speech?

An effort to undermine free speech in Israel -- disguised as a tax hike on NGOs who receive funding from abroad -- cleared a key legislative hurdle on Sunday. It might come up for another, more important, vote in less than a week. We’re mobilizing now to keep that from happening and we need your help.

Write Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Use the form below.

Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, is among the fiercest critics of the bill. He pointed out that this new tax amounted to “a kind of punishment, the purpose of which is to… impair free debate, one of the key anchors of democracy.”

The attorney general also implored the cabinet to reject the bill in order to uphold democratic norms: “Limiting donations and harming non-profit organizations’ free speech, and in general harming human rights is something done by a group of countries that it is doubtful that Israel wants to join.”

Weinstein is not alone. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and a series of other political figures have decried the bill as “unpatriotic” or as a form of “thought police.”

Stand up for civil liberties. Encourage Netanyahu to listen to these objections.

How would this proposed law undermine free speech? The bill establishes different levels of taxation on Israeli NGOs based on what these groups advocate. Organizations that speak out in favor of any of a series of unpopular policies would pay a tax of 45% on donations made from abroad, far more than organizations whose speech is seen as acceptable.

On Sunday the bill was approved by a Cabinet subcommittee. It next needs to be ratified by the entire Cabinet before being introduced in the Knesset. We want to make sure it never passes that vote: Once the bill is endorsed by the Cabinet all members of the governing coalition are required to vote for it in the Knesset. This makes its passage virtually guaranteed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu can make sure his cabinet rejects the bill. Or -- just as good -- he can simply refuse to schedule a vote on this anti-free speech bill.

The next cabinet meeting is Sunday. Please send your email today.

Our partners at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and at the NIF/Shatil Center for Policy Change have been deeply engaged in the effort to stop this bad bill. Today they need our help to send the message that supporters of Israel from around the globe are willing to stand up and be counted on behalf of a more democratic Israel.

This is not about NIF; this is about Israel. Neither the New Israel Fund, nor the hundreds of Israeli NGOs we’re proud to fund, engages in speech that would trigger the tax penalty envisaged in this law.

But the stakes are bigger than one law. This law is one in a series of proposals for a radical agenda that includes even deeper restrictions on free speech, weakening Israel’s independent judiciary, and chipping away at the notion that Israel’s non-Jewish citizens have equal rights.

Today, we’re asking for you to help put a stop to this extremism because the Israel we love cannot survive if it is not a free and democratic society.