(October 7, 2020 / Israel Hayom) A document released by the Israel Tax Authority (ITA) recently and obtained by Israel Hayom indicates that the government is unwilling to supply information about hundreds of millions of shekels worth of tax exemptions given to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other international organizations operating in Israel, some of which are defined as hostile to the country.
Now, an Israeli NGO is gearing up to file a petition against benefits for these organizations with the Jerusalem Administrative Court.
Lavi, a nonprofit organization that works for civil rights and good governance, originally reached out to the Defense and Finance ministries, whose heads have the authority to decide what organizations will receive tax exemptions, but the ministries referred Lavi to the ITA.
Lavi asked the ITA for the following information: the names of the organizations that enjoy the tax exemption; the total amount of the exemption; and the criteria according to which decisions are made on whether or not to grant the benefit to the organizations.
The ITA declined to supply the information, saying “We are denying your request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Law, which states that a public entity will not provide information whose disclosure could harm national security; foreign relations; public safety; or the safety and security of individuals.”
Benefits to international organizations include a hefty discount on the purchase of fuel at a 0 percent VAT rate and an exemption from per-unit taxes. These exemptions were originally granted to ease the work of international aid organizations that operate in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In June, the Knesset Finance Committee held a meeting on the issue of these exemptions, during which a representative of the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) argued that the beneficiaries included not only U.N.-affiliated groups, but also some international groups that operate against Israel.
For example, UNRWA employs many staff members who are affiliated with Hamas. Two years ago, the Trump administration announced that it was withdrawing support for UNRWA, calling it “fundamentally flawed,” and stating that the organization perpetuated the Palestinian refugee quagmire.
Two other groups for which M.K.s have sought the financial benefits—Diakonia and the Mennonite Central Committee—are reportedly involved in anti-Israel activity.
“These are two church organizations who arrive with radical ideological-theological baggage toward Israel,” wrote the NGO Monitor watchdog.
According to NGO Monitor, Diakonia, a church organization that receives funding from the Swedish government, defines itself as a partner of groups such as Badil, Sabil and Al-Hak, which is leading an international campaign to try Israeli leaders in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Diakonia works with the group Al-Mezan, which reportedly has links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Diakonia funds the local arm of the international BDS movement called Who Benefits?, in addition to the far-left organizations B’Tselem and Adalah.
Diakonia also backs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) plan to use foreigners to harass IDF forces in Judea and Samaria. After they return to their home countries, these activists often join BDS efforts.
The Mennonite Council also cooperates with groups tied to the PFLP on a campaign that accuses Israel of abusing Palestinian children. The council funds the Israeli group Zochrot, whose goal is to implement the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Lavi issued a statement laying out the purpose of its planned petition: “We are convinced that the refusal of the authorities to hand over information about tax benefits to international organizations will not withstand legal scrutiny of the petition we are filing.”
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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