The Knesset Finance Committee approved on Tuesday the exemptions of 54 organizations from paying taxes on the donations they receive. Another two NGOs will receive property tax breaks.

During the meeting, a heated argument erupted between coalition and opposition MKs, with MKs Bezalel Smotrich (HaBayit HaYehudi), Miki Zohar (Likud) and Oren Hazan (Likud) demanding a separate vote on granting tax-exempt status to Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.

Committee Chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) cut the meeting short because of the commotion. He renewed it later in the afternoon, and called on the MKs to stick to the technical procedure of approving tax benefits in accordance with the NGO registrar’s decisions. ”If we go over every organization, there will be many that I, personally, cannot vote for and, therefore, I suggest that as long as there isn’t a legal problem with an organization, or no police investigation about any of them, we not take them off the list,” he said.

Following a heated argument over Physicians for Human Rights, Finance Committee approves tax breaks for 56 social NGOs

Photo: Omri Beeri

MK Zohar said PHR ”serves the Palestinians.” The organization`s affinity to the State of Israel is almost non-existent, he added, and it ”mainly helps Israel`s enemies.” MK Hazan argued that ”It cannot be that an organization which harms the State of Israel and openly works against it will ask the country for tax breaks.”

Their comments led to a heated exchange with opposition lawmakers Micky Rosenthal (Zionist Camp), Michal Rozin (Meretz), Dov Khenin (Joint List) and Ahmad Tibi (Joint List). MK Manuel Trajtenberg said, ”We must approve the tax benefits, except in cases where there is suspicion or [actual evidence] that certain organizations are operating in violation of the law. I disagree with some of the organizations (on the list), including Physicians for Human Rights, but we cannot exclude an organization [due to political or ideological reasons].”

Responding to Zohar`s remarks, MK Rozin said ”Those who operate against the government – it does not mean that they are against the country or work against it. In a democracy it is permitted to act against the government; it`s legitimate. You simply do not understand what democracy is.”

Chairman Gafni eventually accepted the demand to hold a separate vote on PHR, but the tax breaks for the organization were sill approved with the support of the opposition MKs, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) and Gafni.