Israel to hit aid groups with bill to limit funds

The Israeli cabinet yesterday took a major step towards passing controversial legislation that would curb foreign funding for NGOs and other aid groups, which activists argue will unfairly target organisations critical of the government.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would limit donations by foreign governments or international bodies to 20,000 shekels (£3,350) annually. The bill must still pass through the Israeli parliament, where there is a majority in its favour.

The Independent reported last week that the British ambassador in Tel Aviv, Matthew Gould, has already taken the unusual step of warning members of the ruling Likud party that the bill would reflect badly on Israel.

Mr Gould is understood to have emphasised that Britain had "real concerns" about the bill, pointing out that it supported human rights work in many countries and that its goal was to support universal values.

Both the Israeli and North American arms of Rabbis for Human Rights, a broad-ranging Jewish organisation which, among other things, works alongside Palestinians, protested that the planned legislation posed a "severe threat to democracy".

The bill is not designed to stem funding from anti-Israeli sources. Nonetheless, supporters of the legislation claim that it will stop friendly nations from trying to influence internal Israeli affairs.

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