Senior community figures fear that Jewish organisations could cease to function if government plans to curb political lobbying become law.
An internal Jewish Leadership Council briefing paper, seen by the JC, warns its members of the implications of legislation aimed at regulating charities’ political campaigning before general elections.
Communal groups that campaign against policies may in future be breaking the law and could face criminal prosecution, the JLC warned.
The proposed Transparency of Lobbying Bill could hamper communal efforts to protect shechita and brit milah, or could be used to curb attempts to defend Israel.
The JLC document explains the Bill’s proposed key changes to the regulation of campaigning by non-party groups in the 12 months before a general election. It suggests “legitimate awareness-raising activities” could become contentious under the new rules.
Proposals in the Bill, which is due to have its second reading on Tuesday, include reducing the amount of money campaign groups can spend in the run-up to an election.
Staffing costs and the funding of campaign activities in individual constituencies could also be brought into question.
The JLC document states: “The regulatory burdens outlined in the Bill — in addition to the confusion around many aspects of it — will make it difficult for many communal organisations to function.
“[They] would not know with any degree of certainty whether they were acting within the law, leaving them open to the risk of prosecution.”
A similar briefing paper leaked by the Electoral Commission last weekend concluded that the plans were flawed and unworkable. The Bill has also been described by experts as “a dog’s breakfast” and “unenforceable”.
Organisations including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Trades Union Congress, have warned of the implications for free speech and for charities’ ability to do their day-to-day work.
Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against extremism, said the plans amounted to a “gagging Bill, limiting democracy, political involvement and criticism”.
The JLC and Board of Deputies, which both co-ordinate communal delegations to government, are registered as charities. More than a dozen constituent members of the JLC are charities — many of them hold their own meetings with ministers, and organise campaigns on issues including health and welfare, security and pro-Israel activism.
The JLC said it had signed up to a protest being organised by the NCVO.
The Cabinet Office said the planned legislation would create “greater transparency”.