Stop Using the Tax Authority as a Tool of the Right

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Israeli activists from Rabbis for Human Rights and members of the Palestinian Awwad family pick olives in the West Bank village of Awarta, near Nablus, Monday Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: AP

The dry, bureaucratic, ostensibly businesslike language the Israel Tax Authority uses when rejecting applications for tax benefits from human rights groups identified with the left cannot hide the political context of these refusals.

As Or Kashti has reported, the tax authority recently refused, for the third time, the application of Rabbis for Human Rights for recognition under Paragraph 46. That status allows donors to a nonprofit organization that has already been recognized as a public institution to claim the expense as an income-tax deduction. In its response the agency said some of the charity’s activities “did not benefit residents of Israel.”

RHR has four departments, two for activities within the Green Line and two that deal with human rights and with legal battles affecting Palestinians in the territories. The group says its activities on behalf of people affected by poverty within the Green Line and its efforts to protect Palestinians from attempts by settlers to interfere with their olive harvesting are expressions of a single outlook, a single struggle for human rights.

It is not the tax authority’s job to distinguish among RHR’s various departments and to “punish” the organization for aiding Palestinians, particularly in light of the fact that Jewish organizations that promote religious, political and nationalistic goals in the territories do have Para 46 status.

This year the tax agency revoked the Para 46 status of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel when the charity refused to give the agency the personal details of clients, many of whom are Palestinian. The claim of violation of client trust and doctor-patient privilege did not persuade the tax authority, which did not make similar demands of organizations such as the mental health hotline Eran or the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.

This abuse of authority does not happen in a vacuum. It is the effect of a governing principle, carefully cultivated by the administrations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that regards entities that dare criticize the government as enemies of the state whose activities should be restricted as much as possible.

The importance of Para 46 exceeds its significant financial effects on fundraising. It is an expression of legitimacy by the government for a vibrant and pluralistic civil society with a plethora of organizations with different agendas.

For the good of the state and its people, the tax authority should stop applying discriminatory policy to human rights organizations and stop being used by the government as an instrument of punishment.

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