The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a bill to amend income tax regulations known as the “NGO bill.” Although restrictions have been inserted in it, its approval means open season on various non-profit associations, human rights and civil rights groups.
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According to the bill, an NGO that acts toward or calls for a boycott of Israel or divestment from Israel, or for sanctions against the state or its citizens, or calls for Israel Defense Forces soldiers to be tried in international tribunals, will be required to pay taxes at the rate of 45 percent of any contribution made by a foreign entity.
Make no mistake about the motivation of the architects of the law − MKs Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu). Their claim that its intent is “to restrict the involvement of foreign political entities in democracy in Israel” conceals the desire to restrict freedom of expression and assembly by imposing economic sanctions.
The bill was approved by a vote of eight ministers to four, after three restrictions were added to it: the additional tax will not be imposed on an NGO if only one board member board contravened only one clause in the bill; the clause was dropped regarding sanctions against groups working against “the Jewish-democratic identity of the state”; and the bill is to be returned to the ministerial committee after its preliminary reading. But the bill’s softening does not legitimize it and does not diminish the great moral failing of the ministers who supported it.
The ministers approved the bill despite its constitutional and democratic obstacles, which have been pointed out by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who said he would be unable to defend the law in the High Court of Justice if a petition is submitted against it. In an opinion submitted to the ministerial committee, Weinstein said that raising the tax rate under such circumstances was “a kind of punishment, the purpose of which is to create a ‘cooling effect’ and thwart contributions to such groups, and thus impair free debate, one of the key anchors of democracy” in Israel. He also said that “restricting contributions and free debate by organizations of the third sector, which includes violation of human rights, is practiced in a number of countries with which it is doubtful that Israel should desirably be placed in the same basket.“
A democratic country cannot allow such a McCarthyesque law. The desire to silence and persecute human and civil rights groups reflects distress and insecurity on the part of entities who seek to drag Israel into a nationalistic and racist place. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, has already announced her opposition to the bill and that she will appeal the decision to approve it. The cabinet ministers should cooperate with her and reject the bill. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must make sure it is struck down.