Impact on Civil Society: Discourse and Actions

Impact on Civil Society: Discourse and Actions

July 25, 2023

Over the last several months the government has advanced legislation and taken steps that aim to limit NGOs and their activities, specifically organizations addressing issues of concern to Arab citizens of Israel and inter-group relations. Professionals within the field of civil society, and shared society specifically, express growing concern that the political environment and governmental policies will challenge their ability to operate, continue their endeavors, and remain financially secure. This alarm is due both to concrete changes that are being implemented and the chilling effect of political discourse and proposals.  


Amid international outcry from allies including the US, France, and Germany, the proposed tax for NGOs bill, which aimed to significantly restrict foreign funding to civil society organizations, was removed from the ministerial agenda for now. "If the bill were to be approved, it would lead to severe damage and the closure of numerous NGOs across various sectors," states Civil Society Protection Hub. It also warned that the impact would extend beyond the dissolution of these organizations, "adversely affecting vulnerable populations that rely on their support and protection."

While the legislation was shelved, there are other ongoing instances of government activity and policy-making that have restricted civil society organizations working with Arab communities. Amitai Chikli, the Minister of Social Equality is discussing a range of proposals that would make it more difficult for Arab led organizations, or organizations traditionally focused on Arab society to be government contractors on informal education and gap year programs. These proposals include, “possibly by setting minimal conditions such as “encouragement of national service,” “promoting Zionist values,” “organizing trips to Poland.” This would make many current or prospective NGOs with a history of doing work in Arab society ineligible. While the Social Ministry’s legal advisor has blocked these plans for now, they display priorities, values and future intentions.

AJEEC-NISPED specifically, one of the largest civil society organizations in Israel, operating in Negev, received an invitation to a disciplinary hearing by the Ministry of Education. In May, the Ministry took action based on the concerns raised, specifically regarding photographs depicting participants wearing AJEEC shirts, waving the Palestinian flag and participating in activities related to "Land Day" as well as the content and messaging conveyed during the organization's activities. The Ministry emphasized that the hearing is a crucial step before any potential actions are taken, such as changes, delays, or termination of support.

Israel's Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an independent political organization whose aim is to coordinate the political actions of various Israeli-Arab bodies, also became a target in May. The Committee is comprised of Arab MKs, Arab local council heads and representatives of different streams in the Arab sector. MKs Har Melech and Halevi filed petitions with the Knesset calling for the Committee to be outlawed and its leaders to be investigated for supporting terrorism.

Several cultural events organized by Baladna al-Naqab group of the Arab Youth Association in Negev were obstructed and cancelled by the Shin Bet. Earlier this year, a musical performance at Ben Gurion University, approved by the school, was suspended by Shin Bet due to one of the artist's political positions. Similarly, a musical evening at Rahat Cultural Center, and a discussion symposium at another community center were cancelled by Shin Bet. Youth Association members report increased calls for investigation of the activists by the security agency over the last few months.

In addition to the significant impact these petitions and subsequent follow-up are poised to have on the specific organization, these moves and the proposed NGO bill have had a chilling effect on the broader field. Coupled with right-wing protests of shared society organizations, anecdotal accounts that many civil society programs with longstanding government support are being frozen until further review as part of coalition efforts to overhaul civil sector partnerships abound among field professionals. Along with increased monitoring and censoring of cultural and political content, many organizations report feeling a need to self-censor or keep a low profile in order to continue operations.

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