The success of Israel’s application to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at a time when civil society in the country is increasingly under threat is a matter of real concern, say development, peace and human rights NGOs.
Israel was earlier this week accepted as a full member of the OECD, a forum for the world's most developed economies, which says it "brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and market economy."
William Bell, Christian Aid's advocacy officer for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory commented today: "Apart from Israel’s continuing occupation and illegal settlement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which has little to do with democracy, recent developments in the country point to further repression. This time, it is civil society organisations there that are under threat."
Legislation tabled in the Knesset in March 2010 will greatly restrict the work of a number of non governmental organisations (NGOs).
Under the pretext of increasing transparency around foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, including from EU governments, the legislation seeks to define political activity so broadly that any organisation "seeking to influence public opinion in Israel" would be labelled as political. This would entail a loss of tax-exempt status which would force many NGOs to scale back their work significantly
Late in April 2010, another Bill was tabled by 18 members of the Knesset, challenging the registration of Israeli NGOs that the authorities believe may assist in documenting or collecting of evidence of human rights abuses which may lead to the prosecution of the perpetrators under the law of universal jurisdiction.
"Clearly this would have serious implications for the existence of many Israeli NGOs which report on human rights abuses and breaches of international law, whoever the violator," said William Bell.
He continued: "The legislation would also undermine human rights defenders working to uphold the rule of law and combat impunity. If enacted, it would strike at the very heart of the democratic space in which civil society operates, and which Israel purports to defend and respect.
"For example, these laws would have undermined the ability of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict under Justice Goldstone to gather data and eye witness accounts. Maybe it is not a coincidence that it is since the publication of that report that NGOs have felt increased levels of intimidation.
"Where a state is seen to be in contravention of international law or abusing human rights, they should be held accountable regardless of who they are or what power they wield," said Bell.
Christian Aid supports both Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs in their efforts to uphold human rights standards and to hold their representatives to account, whether elected or not.
The OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, said the unanimous vote to admit Israel, along with Slovenia and Estonia, "confirms our global vocation as the group of countries that search for answers to the global challenges, and establish standards in many policy fields such as environment, trade, innovation or social issues."
"We trust that the OECD Council monitors the actions of all its members and uses its influence to ensure that freedom and democracy prevail for all, regardless of race and ethnicity," said William Bell.