Freedom of expression may again be under attack in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government is taking action to financially punish international human rights group Amnesty International, after the group called for an international boycott of Israeli settlement products.
Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is allegedly rescinding tax deductions for Israeli donations to the human rights organization, calling upon a 2011 anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) bill passed in March — which bans foreigners who express dissent towards the Israeli government from entering the country.
Miki Zohar, a member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, apparently wrote a letter to Kahlon stating, “Amnesty supports illegal infiltrators and draft refusers, and works with all its might to harm the State of Israel.”
In June, Amnesty International took a strong stance against the Israeli government and called for states across the world to boycott settlement goods due to the “myriad of human rights violations” the Israeli occupation has committed against Palestinians.
“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 multimillion dollar settlement enterprise has been built out of the systematic oppression of the Palestinian population,” Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International said.
B’tsalmo Jewish Rights Organization CEO Shai Glick commented on the human rights organization’s role in Israel, claiming “it is unheard-of absurdity when an organization works against the State of Israel but receives tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from that same state.”
The move by Kahlon will strip the group from receiving tax benefits in Israel, which could greatly affect the amount of donations they receive in the country. According to Amnesty International, a majority of group’s income comes from small donations from individuals. In 2016, more than 2 million individuals donated to Amnesty International raising €279m for human rights work.
In response to the financial attack, the human rights group claimed if action is taken by authorities, it “would be a serious setback to freedom of expression and an ominous sign for the ability of human rights NGOs in Israel to operate freely.”
In July, five members of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), including a rabbi, were denied entry to Israel under the BDS Bill, allegedly due to their association with the BDS movement.
“Israel denied me the ability to travel there because of my work for justice for Palestinians, even though I’m Jewish and a rabbi,” Rabbi Alissa Wise said in the JVP statement. “I’m heartbroken and outraged. This is yet another demonstration that democracy and tolerance in Israel only extend to those who fall in line with its increasingly repressive policies against Palestinians.”
By essentially denying the “Law of Return” for Jewish people to enter the country the Israeli government looks like a bunch of hypocrites for aggressively silencing opposition.
If the Israeli government is to enforce these punitive measures against Amnesty International, they will be moving toward policy that restricts freedom of expression, the protection of human rights, and ultimately promotes the elevation of their state at any cost — a defining quality of authoritarian regimes.
BANNER/THUMBNAIL CREDIT: REUTERS/Muammar Awad