The Israeli government is set to revoke Amnesty Internationalâ€™s tax benefits in Israel as punishment for the groupâ€™s anti-settlement campaign, a move the group said, on Tuesday, was an â€śominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely.â€ť
Israeli daily Haaretz reported, according to Ma’an, that representatives of Amnesty International will be summoned for a hearing at Israelâ€™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, Israelâ€™s parliament, from the right-wing Likud party wrote a letter to Israelâ€™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 â€śimmediately 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 Israelâ€™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 â€śdeeply alarming.â€ť 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 â€śserious setback to freedom of expression,â€ť and an â€śan ominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely and without arbitrary interference.â€ť
â€śTaking punitive action against Amnesty International over its settlements campaign would constitute a brazen attack by the Israeli authorities on the organizationâ€™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,â€ť Mughrabi added.
In the statement, the group reiterated the stance of the international community that Israelâ€™s settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, and that Israelâ€™s settlement enterprise has â€ścontributed to decades of mass suffering and violationsâ€ť in the occupied Palestinian territory.
â€śAs a human rights organization, Amnesty International aims to ensure that governments uphold their obligations under international law and are not fueling such violations themselves,â€ť the group said. â€śThatâ€™s why the organizationâ€™s campaign directs its call at states across the world; asking them to stop assisting an illegal situation by financially sustaining Israelâ€™s abusive, discriminatory, and unlawful settlement policy.â€ť
The group noted that countries allowing Israeli settlement products into their markets and permitting companies to work in illegal settlements â€śdirectly help(s) the illegal settlement industry profit and thrive.â€ť
â€śAn end to the settlement enterprise is essential to ending the mass violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israelâ€™s occupation,â€ť 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.
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Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, and continues into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.