(photo credit: FREED PHOTOGRAPHY)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is expected to summon Amnesty International representatives to a hearing over the NGO’s campaign encouraging a boycott of settlement products in the coming days.
A Finance Ministry source confirmed Kahlon’s plans on Wednesday, which would be the first time the 2011 anti-boycott law is invoked. The hearing would be the step before taking punitive action against Amnesty, such as denying it tax exempt status.
The human-rights NGO had yet to be officially notified of the hearing on Wednesday.
“The reports that the Israeli government plans to punish Amnesty International over its settlements campaign are deeply alarming,” Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Magdalena Mughrabi said. “If true, this would be a serious setback to freedom of expression and an ominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely and without arbitrary interference.”
Amnesty International – Israel spokesman Gil Naveh said the issue goes beyond the organization’s tax status, and 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,” which would put Israel in the same category as countries like Turkey, Iran and Thailand.
The hearing comes in response to Amnesty’s campaign “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession,” calling on foreign governments to ban imports of products from the West Bank and enact an arms embargo on Israel. After the organization began the campaign in July, Likud MK Miki Zohar called on Kahlon to take action against it.
At the time, Kahlon said: “We will use every means we have, including revoking tax benefits, against any organization that will harm the State of Israel or IDF soldiers.”
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In the ensuing months, the Finance and Justice ministries determined, based on Amnesty’s website and social media accounts, that it violates the anti-boycott law, whose full name is the Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott.
Under the law, anyone who boycotts or calls to boycott an institution, person or geographic area because it is under Israeli control or affiliated with Israel can be subjected to civil sanctions, including denying a nonprofit organization its tax-deductible donation status.
In addition, those people or organizations can be sued if there is proof of damages.
Naveh did not back down from Amnesty’s call for boycotts, and said the NGO defends people’s rights to participate in and advocate for boycotts, but thinks the burden should be foremost on governments, and not consumers.
“There is a wide consensus around the world about the illegality of Israeli settlements. We remind the governments of the world to stand behind the decision and resolutions they have accepted,” he said. “Amnesty International’s focus is ensuring that governments uphold their obligations under international law and aren’t fueling violations themselves. That’s why our call is directed at states, asking them to stop financially sustaining Israel’s illegal settlement policy.”
In addition, Naveh said Amnesty calls on the UN Security Council “to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Palestinian armed groups to prevent further war crimes and serious violations being committed with impunity...
based on states’ existing obligation not recognize or assist in the illegal situation created by settlements.”
As for the tax break, Naveh said revoking it would have little effect.
“Amnesty International is the largest and oldest human rights movement in the world, with millions of members; more than 2,500 of them are donors in Israel,” he said. “The approval of [tax deductible status] didn’t change the amount of donations. You can count on one hand the number of donors interested in this tax break. Our thousands of supporters in Israel are committed to human rights regardless of this tax break.”
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