Tax breaks for non-profit groups critical of Israel was the subject of a heated discussion in the Knesset on Thursday, as the activities of Amnesty International and 74 others came under scrutiny.
In a compromise proposal from Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), Amnesty received a one-year extension, while the others were approved for three years.
The debate exposed the usual political fault lines, as right-wing MKs opposed the tax breaks, while the left supported them.
In the Finance Committee session, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) led the fight against renewing Amnesty’s tax-free status, arguing that the organization is against the state and IDF officers. He said that he was all for free speech, but that does not entitle such groups to receive a tax benefit from the government.
Smotrich and 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 accused organizations of “enjoying the tax money of citizens against whom they act,” singling out B’Tselem, a member of which recently testified against Israeli policies at the UN Security Council, as “standing hand in hand with our enemies.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On insisted that all the organizations on the list qualify under the law.
“There are organizations that are more to my taste and some are less, but that’s irrelevant,” Gal-On said. “We used to authorize all of them, as a package deal, even though there are people here with different views. I supported [tax breaks] even in cases when I didn’t like it. This could create a dangerous precedent.”
She dismissed Smotrich’s claim that Amnesty is anti-Israel, saying that it is currently “hunting season… against human rights organizations that criticize the government.”
Rabbi Gafni noted that “If we damage this system by adding political considerations, it will be harmful to social and religious issues.”
Amnesty International also had its say. While praising the decision to give it another year, it berated “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.”
Gafni did cancel the tax exemption for one organization, the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, a group that has advocated for Messianic Jews and alleged missionary activity.
In response, the group denied the charge, saying it is involved in promoting human rights.