Peres Center Told: Choose Between Gaza Health Project and Tax Break

Center suspends its application for tax exemptions rather than comply with the conditions, which it received in writing about 18 months ago.

The Israel Tax Authority told the Peres Center for Peace that it would have to withdraw from a project that brings physicians from the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals for training purposes if it wanted to receive tax-exempt status on donations. The Peres Center suspended its application for the tax exemptions rather than comply with the conditions, which it received in writing about 18 months ago.

The purpose of the training program, one of the few run by the Peres Center for the benefit of the Gazan population, is to improve the quality of the health clinics in the Gaza Strip and encourage ties with Israeli hospitals. The Peres Center matches the doctors with Israeli hospitals and pays for the trainees' stay in Israel.

Tomer Appelbaum

In light of the decline of foreign donations in recent years, the Peres Center applied to the tax authority's Department of Public Institutions and Nonprofit Organizations about a year and a half ago, requesting tax-exempt status for local donors. In response, it received a letter stipulating the center's withdrawal from the physicians' training program as a condition for receiving the exemption.

Haaretz has obtained a copy of that document, which states, in part: "The nonprofit association shall cease its activities in connection to conducting training for physicians, paramedic professionals and medical students who come from the Gaza Strip for training in Israel, or for training at their place of residence or work."

The document stated that the project could continue under the auspices of another organization, which would not be eligible for tax-exempt status. The letter, which was signed by Zvi Me'udah of the department of public institutions, also stipulated additional, relatively minor, conditions for receiving the tax exemption.

The Peres Center's board and then-director, Ron Pundak, decided to suspend the pursuit of the tax exemption and continue the center's involvement in the training program.

A few months ago, after taking over as head of the center, Asaf Shariv decided to revisit the idea of obtaining the tax deduction for its local donors. Tax professionals are reviewing the issue for the center. Shariv could not be reached for comment before press time yesterday.

The Tax Authority declined this week to confirm whether any conditions were issued to the center. It said only that representatives of the Peres Center were asked to submit information and to report to meetings, "but elected not to pursue the process."