Ministers Okay Bill Revoking Tax Exemptions for NGOs That Accuse Israel of War Crimes

Bill calls to cancel exemptions on donations to NGOs that 'act against Israel abroad.' 'A political bill targeting human-rights groups,' Israel Democracy Institute says.

MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset, December 2016.
Emil Salman

Israeli ministers on Monday approved a bill that would cancel tax benefits given to those who donate to non-governmental groups associated with the left.

The bill approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is sponsored by Habayit Hayehudi lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich. If passed by the Knesset, donations to groups "acting against Israel" in the international arena will no longer be subject to tax benefits, currently applicable to 35 percent of the contribution.

The groups in question are defined as any "public institution that releases statements accusing the State of Israel of committing war crimes" and any "institution that takes part in calls for a boycott of the State of Israel."

Twenty-six Knesset members representing all the factions of the governing coalition have signed the proposed legislation.

"The citizens of Israel don't need to fund activity that isn't for their benefit from their own pocket," the legislation says. "They can do it of their own accord, but they can't be forced to do so through the government's tax system."

The bill further states: "We propose to enact a demand according to which the public aim advanced by the public institution will be that which is in direct affiliation with Israeli citizens or the Jewish diaspora. In this way, the State of Israel will mirror its commitment to Jews worldwide." 

The Israel Democracy Institute severely criticized the bill in a letter sent to the ministerial committee. The bill includes "a vague definition with a clear political element," Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer and Dr. Amir Fuchs wrote. "The question who harms the state and what harms it is up for public debate. So, for instance, the question remains whether a non-profit that exposes war crimes carried out by Israel is harming the state or safekeeping its moral character and preventing it from being dragged into international lawsuits."

Kremnitzer and Fuchs added that the bill is one in a series aiming to harm human-rights groups. According to them, the bill harms Israel's image abroad and undermines its legitimacy facing international bodies.