Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is reportedly seeking to remove tax breaks for donors to Amnesty International Israel over the human rights group’s call for the international community to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Ending tax breaks for Amnesty International would mark the first time Israel has taken action against a violator of the so-called 2011 Boycott Law, which allows Israel to deny government benefits to groups or individuals that advocate for boycotts of the Jewish state.
Kahlon’s decision to punish Amnesty International for allegedly violating the Boycott Law was reported Tuesday by the Israel Hayom daily. It said representatives from the organization will be summoned for a hearing at the Finance Ministry in the coming days ahead of Kahlon’s final ruling on the matter.
In response to the report, Amnesty International accused Israel of waging a campaign of “systematic persecution” against critics of Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
“The issue is bigger than the approval of tax breaks,” the Haaretz daily quoted the group as saying. “The issue is the Israeli government’s systematic persecution of human rights groups and activists that criticize the government’s actions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”
“Israel needs to thoroughly consider whether it is interested in being a member of the dubious club of countries whose governments persecute Amnesty International activists and imposes sanctions on them, such as Turkey, Thailand, Russia and Iran,” it added.
A spokesman for Amnesty International’s Israel branch said the group has received a large number of calls from potential donors since the publication of the Israel Hayom report.
“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,” Gil Naveh told Haaretz.
He also said the vast majority of the Amnesty International’s donors in Israel have never asked about the tax breaks when contributing money to the organization, brushing aside the notion that ending tax breaks would lead to a drop in donations.
According to Israel Hayom, Kahlon’s decision to seek punitive action against Amnesty International was prompted by the group’s campaign advocating for companies and foreign governments to ban goods produced in West Bank settlements.
Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War, the campaign also calls on states to stop their companies from operating in settlements.
“For decades, the world has stood by as Israel has destroyed Palestinians’ homes and plundered their land and natural resources for profit. While the Palestinian economy has been stunted by 50 years of abusive policies, a thriving multi-million dollar settlement enterprise has been built out of the systematic oppression of the Palestinian population,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.
Jewish settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines are viewed by most international leaders as illegal. Israel disputes this, as there was no legal sovereign there prior to its taking control, and claims a historical tie to the biblical Judea and Samaria.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.