Israeli Leftists Mull 'Tea Party' Tax Revolt Against Occupation

Catalyzed by 'illegal law' that 'legalizes embezzlement of Palestinian land,' pro-peace leftists want to boycott settlements, withhold taxes.

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TOPSHOT - Israeli youths supporters of settlements gather inside a house in the settlement of Ofra in the occupied West Bank, during an operation by Israeli police to evacuate settlers' houses, on February 28, 2017
TOPSHOT - Israeli youths supporters of settlements gather inside a house in the settlement of Ofra in the occupied West Bank, during an operation by Israeli police to evacuate settlers' houses, on FebCredit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

In a first initiative of its kind, a group of Israeli leftist activists will vote on Thursday on a plan to protest the occupation through acts of civil rebellion.  Their plan includes blocking entrances to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and withholding the relative portion of their tax bill that goes to financing the settlement enterprise.

Although many Israelis opposed to the occupation already do not visit or buy products made in the settlements, the plan also includes an organized boycott of the settlements, including school trips over the Green Line.

“What prompted us to consider these measures is the new law that legalizes the embezzlement of Palestinian land,” said Naftali Raz, a veteran social activist and the coordinator of the initiative. “This is the first time the Israeli Knesset has passed a law that is essentially illegal, and that is unacceptable to us.”

Naftali Raz, a veteran social activist behind the anti-occupation protest moveCredit: David Bachar

Several dozen prominent Israeli activists will convene in Tel Aviv to vote on the plan on Thursday. According to Raz, they represent a much larger group of about 400 Israelis behind a recent advertising campaign against the new law, which provides for retroactive legalization of private Palestinian land seized illegally. The group of 400, said Raz, includes some of Israel’s best-known writers, several Nobel Prize winners and high-ranking retired army commanders.

“If the vote passes, we hope all 400 of them will participate in this civil rebellion, and then we will try to enlist the millions of other Israelis who oppose the occupation,” he said.

Based on conservative estimates that about 5 percent of the state budget goes to the settlements, he said, taxpayers participating in the initiative would be encouraged to withhold an equivalent share of their tax bill from the Finance Ministry. “We will ask participants to write to the Finance Ministry saying that they have no intention of profiting by withholding this tax, but rather, they would like to transfer these revenues to social and human rights projects rather than the settlements.”

Because the vast majority of Israelis are wage-earners whose taxes are deducted automatically, Raz conceded that the tax rebellion would only be relevant for a small minority who are self-employed.

Refusing to buy products from the settlements or to visit the settlements is not illegal, but refusing to pay taxes and blocking entrances to settlements is. Raz speculated it might, therefore, be more difficult to garner support for such measures.

 “To the best of my knowledge, this would seem to be a new phase in opposing the occupation,” said Prof. Uri Ram, chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at Ben Gurion University. “Still, it sounds to me more like the swan song of the Israeli left.”

Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute and expert on social movements in the country, was equally skeptical. “If two-thirds of the population engage in a tax rebellion, that could have a huge effect on the budget,” she said. “If it’s only 50 people, that’s really nothing more than an opportunity for those 50 people to come away with a clean conscience. “

“Civil rebellions can only have an effect,” she added, “when masses of people take part.”