The report about the Peres Center for Peace's request for tax breaks for its donors, and the fact that the Tax Authority conditioned such an arrangement on the center's withdrawal from a project that brings physicians from the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals for training purposes ("Peres Center told: Choose between Gaza health project and tax break," Haaretz, December 9 ) exposes an ugly and twisted tale.
In recent years, 120 physicians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank have undergone internships at 18 hospitals in Israel. Their internships were aimed at boosting the level of medical services in the Palestinians Authority and Gaza, and also benefited the hospitals in Israel.
Interns, as we have learned recently, work long hours and take home small pay checks - and in this instance, very small ones. Many of the Palestinian interns require assistance with housing and food, and they are helped by the Peres Center. No one has breathed a bad word about the project. To the contrary: It has gone ahead to the satisfaction of both sides, has earned worldwide renown and remains, of late, almost alone on the list of good deeds by the State of Israel. So if this is the case, then why destroy it?
The following is the chronology of a routine request that was turned into a march of folly:
The Peres Center for Peace submits a request for tax breaks for its donors (Article 46 A of the Tax Ordinance ) to the Israel Tax Authority's Department of Public Institutions and Nonprofit Organizations. The department's response (dated April 2010 ) includes the demand that "the nonprofit association will cease its activities related 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 Peres Center's administrative board opts for the project over the tax breaks, and cuts ties with the Tax Authority.
Could it be that the Peres Center for Peace does not meet the legal criteria to be included on the list of institutions whose activities make them eligible for tax breaks for donors?
I read the response from the Tax Ordinance, reviewed the list of activities of the center and sought expert advice on the matter. It takes a particularly creative mind, said one of them, to find a contradiction or lack of correlation between the law and the activities of the center. He appears to be correct. Interpretation of the law by a rank-and-file official (and perhaps his superiors ) could emerge as an effective asset in the process of shriveling the only democracy in the Middle East.
It would be interesting to know why another of the center's projects has been left alone for now - the referral and admittance of Palestinian children to Israel hospitals for medical care. Could it be that the Tax Authority closes its eyes to what is known in washed-down language as "medical tourism" only because it means good revenues for the hospitals?
"Don't give them any ideas," said a former high-ranking Finance Ministry official who knows that the Peres Center is set to submit its request once again. "The whole thing is absurd already," he continued. "A donation to the Peres Center by a U.S. citizen is recognized by the American authorities as a tax-deductible expense, while a donation from an Israeli citizen isn't. I don't think the Americans would like that."
The Americans? Won't like that? This, of course, is an unconvincing argument when Minister Gilad Erdan advises U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to focus on the matters of her own country and not Israeli affairs. When MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ) likens, in his explanation on the resurgent nonprofit associations law, the IRA to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, and when MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu ) tries to silence, by law, the call of the muezzin - what intellectual flowering, a veritable revival of the Jewish Enlightenment movement.
And we haven't even said a word yet about the founder of the Peres Center for Peace, the president, and his dignity.