In First, Israel Will Penalize Amnesty International for Anti-settlements Campaign

Finance Ministry moving to deny tax benefits to Israelis donating to the human rights group after its campaign to boycott West Bank settlement goods

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Palestinians cross an Israeli checkpoint as they make their way to attend Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
Palestinians cross an Israeli checkpoint as they make their way to attend Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem June 16, Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/REUTERS
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Israel plans to punish Amnesty International for its recent campaign, which encourages people to lobby companies and governments to boycott settlement products, by denying tax benefits to Israelis who donate to the human rights organization.

It is the first time the government will apply the so-called anti-boycott law, which penalizes organizations and individuals calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements. The controversial law was passed in 2011.

Free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is widely seen as a mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported in its main story Tuesday that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has resolved to take action against Amnesty International for its summer campaign “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession," marking the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The campaign urges people to call on foreign companies and governments to end their trade ties with the settlements.

Haaretz has confirmed that representatives of the organization will be summoned to a hearing at the Finance Ministry. At press time, a spokesman for Kahlon did not respond to a request by Haaretz for comment.

The campaign’s website states: “We want governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians: and you can help.

“The issue is not just about Israel taking Palestinian land and resources illegally. Governments around the world are letting goods produced in these settlements into their markets, and are allowing companies in their countries to operate in settlements. All of this helps the illegal settlements profit and thrive.

“Call on your government now to ban Israeli settlement goods from entering your markets, and to stop companies based in your country operating in settlements or trading in their goods – and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Although many human rights organizations support a settlements boycott, none that fundraise in Israel have thus far made such an explicit boycott call.

Under Clause 46 (a) of the Israeli Income Tax Ordinance, donations to approved nonprofits are tax deductible. The law stipulates that any donation larger than 180 shekels ($51) and up to a ceiling of 9 million shekels ($2.55 million) to an approved nonprofit is eligible for a 35 percent tax deduction each year.

Amnesty International’s Israel office only became eligible for the tax benefit last October. Most Israeli human rights organizations do not qualify for this status.

Clause 46 (a) status is approved by the Knesset Finance Committee and typically applies for a period of three years before being reassessed. In the case of Amnesty’s Israel office, the Knesset Finance Committee decided that the special status would be reassessed after only one year, in response to pressure from far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, from the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi party.

According to Amnesty International Israel spokesman Gil Naveh, the organization has upward of 2,500 donors in the country. In the past year, he said, barely a handful had inquired about the tax deductions, suggesting it was not critical for most of them.

“Since the report was published [Tuesday] morning about the Finance Ministry’s plan to eliminate our special tax status, we have been inundated with calls from supporters who want to donate money to us,” he added.

Naveh said that, to the best of his knowledge, the Finance Ministry has yet to notify Amnesty International of its decision.

The latest available financial report for Amnesty International’s Israel office shows that it raised 61,303 shekels from local donors in 2015 and 112,738 shekels in 2014.

Responding to the Israel Hayom report, Naveh said: “This story goes beyond one tax break or another. It is part of a systematic persecution of human rights organizations and activists who criticize the Israeli government for its actions inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel should think carefully whether it wants to be in the same company as countries whose governments are persecuting human rights activists – including those from Amnesty International – such as Turkey, Iran and Thailand.”

Mickey Gitzin, executive director of the Israel office of the New Israel Fund, which supports progressive organizations and causes in the country, said the Finance Ministry’s reported move was clearly not aimed at hurting the organization financially, since the benefits Amnesty International receives under the income tax ordinance are not significant.

“It is simply a publicity stunt aimed at terrorizing and silencing those who legitimately criticize the Israeli occupation,” Gitzin said. “Those who don’t distinguish between the settlements and the rest of Israel are effectively collaborating with the BDS movement, because neither do they,” he said, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions activists.

Even the Israeli government differentiates between the occupied territories and the rest of Israel, he added, noting, “The fact is that it does not apply Israeli law in the West Bank.”

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