May 31, 2023 - World

Scoop: U.S. ambassador to Israel sent Bibi letter urging him to suspend NGO bill

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week urging him not to move forward with legislation that would limit the ability of Israeli nongovernmental organizations to raise money from foreign governments, two Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Netanyahu took the legislation off the table for further review following U.S. and European pressure.

Driving the news: The bill presented by a member of Knesset from Netanyahu’s Likud party stated that NGOs that receive money from foreign governments won’t be recognized as nonprofit organizations and will have to pay 65% tax.

  • The bill was initially scheduled to be voted on last Sunday in the ministerial committee for legislation before moving to the Knesset.

Behind the scenes: Nides and other U.S. diplomats privately worked for weeks to urge the Israeli government to back off from the bill, the Israeli and U.S. officials said.

  • Many other Western countries, including close Israeli allies like Germany, the U.K., France and the Netherlands, also privately and publicly lobbied the Israeli government against the bill, European diplomats told Axios.
  • The foreign ministers of Germany and the U.K. even sent text messages last week to Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, warning about the consequences of the bill on Israel’s international standings and image, the diplomats said.

Nides' letter to Netanyahu, which has not been previously disclosed, laid out the concerns the Biden administration has about the proposed bill, a U.S. official said.

  • "We didn’t threaten the Israelis or anything like that, but our message was that this bill is going to get Israel into an international crisis for something that isn’t worth it," a U.S. official said.
  • The Prime Minister's Office confirmed Netanyahu received the letter.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office told reporters on Saturday the bill had been taken off the agenda for review because it would do more harm than good.
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