Human Rights Groups in Israel Respond to Proposed Bill to Suppress Information about Serious Breaches of International Law: A Danger to Democracy

Thu., April 29, 2010 – Democratic values are important to the human rights community in Israel. A new bill proposes to trample these democratic values and undermine the ability to seek accountability for human rights violations. It is with great concern that we respond to the proposed bill: Associations (Amutot) Law (Amendment – Exceptions to the Registration and Activity of an Association), 2010. The bill, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the registration of any Non Governmental Organization (NGO) if "there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the association is providing information to foreign entities or is involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers, for war crimes". An existing NGO would be shut down under the proposed law if it engaged in such activity.

Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this bill prefer to reduce it to ashes. This bill is the direct result of irresponsible leadership that is doing all it can to undermine democratic values and the institutions that are the backbone of a democracy: the Supreme Court, a free press, and human rights organizations. A public sphere without these institutions operating independently of the government is a public sphere that is crippled and anti-democratic at its core.

The sponsors of this bill would do well to invest their energies in fulfilling their duty to oversee the actions of the executive branch, including the security forces. Where a suspicion arises that war crimes have been committed, legislators should act to bring about an independent, impartial investigation in Israel, according to the standards set by international law. The Israeli government’s refusal to allow the domestic legal system to investigate allegations of war crimes is the very reason that war crimes may be investigated and prosecuted abroad. The bill – which essentially seeks to conceal information or suspicions of a crime – violates international treaties and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was signed in the wake of the horrors of World War II. It represents an unprecedented moral nadir within the Israeli house of parliament.

This response is issued by the Directors’ Forum of the following human rights organizations, all of whom are associations (amutot) registered in Israel:

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel 
Association for Civil Rights in Israel 
Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights 
B’tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories 
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement 
Hamoked – Center for the Defence of the Individual 
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel 
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel 
Rabbis for human rights 
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights