Activists of Amnesty International demonstrate to show their support with the Syrian people at the Fontaine des Innocentes in Paris May 29, 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset Finance Committee authorized a tax break for Amnesty International, along with 74 other non-profit organizations, following a heated dispute among MKs Thursday.
Amnesty’s tax break was only approved for one year, as opposed to most of the other NGOs whose names the Tax Authority submitted, whose donations will be untaxed for the next three years.
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), who led the charge against Amnesty, with support from Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, proposed a bill that said only organizations that “act for the good of Israeli citizens and not against the State of Israel in the world” can receive the tax break.
Shaked said Israel “won’t turn the other cheek,” and accused organizations of “enjoying the tax money of citizens against whom they act,” specifically mentioning far-Left NGO B’Tselem, which recently testified against Israeli policies at the UN Security Council, as “standing hand in hand with our enemies.”
“We’re bringing sanity back to Israel. The state won’t fund organizations acting against it,” Smotrich stated. “We decided to stop the absurd situation in which anti-Zionist organizations act against the country and audaciously demand tax benefits. Israeli democracy can handle organizations of all kinds, but will not encourage and support those who act against it.”
In the Finance Committee meeting, Smotrich spoke out against renewing Amnesty’s tax-free status, saying that the organization is against the state and IDF officers. He differentiated between freedom of speech and the right to receive a tax benefit from the government.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said that all 76 organizations the committee discussed meet the standards of the law.
“There are organizations that are more to my test and some are less, but that’s irrelevant,” Gal-On argued. “We used to authorize all of them, as a package deal, even though there are people here with different view.
I supported [tax breaks] even in cases when I didn’t like it.
This could create a dangerous precedent.”
As for Smotrich’s claim that Amnesty is anti-Israel, Gal-On said he was talking nonsense and that it is currently “hunting season… against human rights organizations that criticize the government.”
MK Miki Zohar (Likud), however, supported Smotrich, saying that Gal-On is only upset because Amnesty is “the radical Left that supports your opinion and even helps you in elections.”
“We don’t want the State of Israel to help bodies that want us to stop existing, so whoever donates to that organization won’t get a tax credit,” Zohar explained.
MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) said that there are criteria listed in the law, and they should be followed, otherwise organizations will lose their tax breaks all the time.
“There are organizations that really annoy me and harm the country, like ones that build in the territories, but we can’t turn this into a battering ram,” Rosenthal said.
Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said that until recent years, NGO tax breaks were voted on as a package deal and there was little controversy.
“If we harm this system by adding political considerations, it will be harmful to social and religious issues,” he stated.
Gafni suggested the compromise by which Amnesty’s tax break would only be for one year.
Amnesty praised the committee for extending its tax benefit and said the charges against it were raised by “the lunatic Right in the Knesset, with its bizarre claim of harming the state, because we criticize government policies that violate human rights, despite the professional opinion of the Tax Authority that found no problem with Amnesty’s activities.”
The organization’s spokesman also thanked Smotrich for the free publicity.
Gafni removed one organization, the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, a group that has advocated for Messianic Jews, from the list of NGOs that can receive tax-free donations, because of concerns that they engage in missionary activities, which are illegal.
“JIJ is acting in last 12 years to promote human rights. We were very surprised to hear about the rejection of your request. We will check the reason for it. We do not deal in missionizing,” a spokesperson for the organization said.