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Israel to revoke Amnesty International's tax benefits over anti-settlement campaign

Sept. 12, 2017 10:13 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 13, 2017 4:43 P.M.)
Palestinians walk past a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank biblical town of Bethlehem calling to boycott Israeli products coming from settlements, 2015. ( AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government is set to revoke Amnesty International’s tax benefits in Israel as punishment for the group’s anti-settlement campaign, a move the group said on Tuesday was an “ominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely.”

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday that representatives of Amnesty International will be summoned for a hearing at Israel’s Finance Ministry to discuss a move that would strip Israelis who donate to the organization of any tax benefits in Israel. According to the group, they had only become eligible for tax benefits last October.

Reports emerged in July that Miki Zohar, a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, from the right-wing Likud party wrote a letter to Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon requesting that he use the anti-Boycott bill passed in March -- which banned foreigners who have openly expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country -- in order to “immediately revoke Israel's recognition of donations to Amnesty, since it is an organization which encourages others to boycott all or part of Israel."

Amnesty International recently launched a campaign to convince the international community to implement a full boycott of illegal Israeli settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory, marking a major boost to the BDS Movement, which Israeli authorities have been bent on eradicating.

BDS targets companies that act in compliance with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and encourage supporters to avoid buying Israeli products in order to put pressure on the Israeli government to end the half-century occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the decade-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

In a statement released by Amnesty International on Tuesday, in response to the Israeli media reports, Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said that the news was “deeply alarming.” The group said they have yet to be officially informed of the news.

However, if the reports prove true, she said, it would represent a “serious setback to freedom of expression,” and an “an ominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely and without arbitrary interference.”

“Taking punitive action against Amnesty International over its settlements campaign would constitute a brazen attack by the Israeli authorities on the organization’s legitimate human rights work. It would also be the latest effort by the authorities to silence human rights organizations and activists who criticize the Israeli government and call for accountability,” Mughrabi added.

In the statement, the group reiterated the stance of the international community that Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, and that Israel’s settlement enterprise has “contributed to decades of mass suffering and violations” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“As a human rights organization, Amnesty International aims to ensure that governments uphold their obligations under international law and are not fuelling such violations themselves,” the group said. “That’s why the organization’s campaign directs its call at states across the world; asking them to stop assisting an illegal situation by financially sustaining Israel’s abusive, discriminatory, and unlawful settlement policy.”

The group noted that countries allowing Israeli settlement products into their markets and permitting companies to work in illegal settlements “directly help(s) the illegal settlement industry profit and thrive.”

“An end to the settlement enterprise is essential to ending the mass violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation,” Amnesty International added.

Israeli authorities have targeted human rights groups active in the occupied Palestinian territory, attempting to stifle their work in various ways. The anti-boycott law has marked a serious escalation of such attempts, with several pro-Palestinian activists being barred from entering the country in recent months, including Jews who are participating in the boycott movement.

Recently, reports emerged that Israel has suspended granting work visas for new foreign charity workers arriving in the country, in a move that could impede aid to Palestinians. A report by AFP news agency and Times of Israel said that dozens of aid workers from major international NGOs have been unable to get work visas or faced delays in recent months, though Israel dismissed the matter as "procedural."
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