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Bibi softens stance on 'anti-democratic' laws

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to "soften" the controversial laws passed in the Knesset over the past couple of weeks.

    Mr Netanyahu is trying to convince the public that, contrary to the accusations of the opposition - and even some of the members of his own party - he is not pushing an "anti-democratic" agenda.

    He is arguing that the laws limiting funding for left-wing NGOs, bumping up the libel penalties and giving the right-wing a majority in the committee that appoints judges, will amount to mere cosmetic changes when they reach their final reading in the Knesset.

    The law forbidding NGOs from receiving funding from foreign governments was approved last week by the Knesset.

    On Sunday, the plenum voted for a change in the libel law whereby courts can award six times the current compensation available to a plaintiff without need to prove damages, and law which mandates that the chairman of the Israel Bar Association will be a member of the Judicial Appointments Committee.

    While Mr Netanyahu voted in favour of both laws, his advisers made it clear this week that these were preliminary votes and that the Prime Minister would make sure that the NGO and libel laws would be "softened" in the committee stage before they are presented for their final votes in the Knesset. In the case of the NGO law, this will probably mean a distinction being made between "aid NGOs", which will be allowed to continue receiving funding from foreign governments, and "political NGOs".

    It is still unclear how the libel law will be toned down. One option is not to push the penalty as high as the intended NIS 300,000 (£50,000), or to include a clause that will not allow elected politicians to sue for this sum.

    Mr Netanyahu retreated last week from some of the more radical attempts to change the appointment process of the Supreme Court when he nixed the proposal to hold hearings for judicial candidates in front of a Knesset committee.

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