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U.S. Warns 'NGO Law' Could Have 'Chilling Effect' on Israel's Civil Society

Critical comments from U.S. come after EU issued a similar warning of the effects of the 'NGO Bill.'The U.S. voiced severe criticism Tuesday of a new Israeli law that targets left wing organizations. The so-called NGO Law, officially named the Transparency Law and passed into law Monday, could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel, the U.S. State Department said.
John Kirby, the spokesperson for the State Department, said that though a number of the White House's concerns that were voiced before Jerusalem were addressed in the law's final wording, the U.S. is "still very concerned about the impact this law might have on the worthwhile activities of Israeli NGOs."
He further said that U.S. President Barack Obama has said on numerous occasions that freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, civil society and the ability to voice dissent and criticism are hallmarks of a healthy democracy.
The law, which passed its second and third readings 57-48, mandates special reporting requirements for nongovernmental organizations that get most of their funding from foreign governments, and, according to critics, disproportionately targets human rights organizations.
According to the Justice Ministry, there are only 27 organizations in Israel that get more than half their funding from foreign governments. Of these, 25 are human rights organizations identified with the left.
Earlier Tuesday, the European Union sharply criticized the law, saying that it goes "beyond the legitimate need for transparency" and that it "seem[s] aimed at constraining the activities of ... civil society organizations working in Israel."
"Israel enjoys a vibrant democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society which are an integral part of the values which Israel and the EU both hold dear," the EU spokesman's office said.

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Video of the Week New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police




The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802141

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