The Finance Committee of the Knesset convened on the morning of October 26 to decide on whether two “controversial” organizations would receive the status granted by article 46 which enables donors to the organization claim a tax deduction on their donation. While in other countries this status may be automatic for non-profits, in Israel there are certain basic requirements that must be met.
One of the organizations in question represent Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel and the other one is Yachad, the organization which runs the Messianic congregation Tiferet Yeshua.
This is in fact the second time that Yachad has been denied this status. The first request was rejected in 2015.
Almost three months ago, the committee received a list of 100 non-profits who had all gone through the professional scrutiny of the tax authority and were awaiting confirmation. The committee confirmed 98 of them and postponed the discussion on these two.
Moshe Gafni, the head of the committee and one of the most dedicated anti-missionaries in the Knesset, introduced this new procedure for “controversial” non-profits only a few months ago, after ensuring its legality. As representatives of the public, the Knesset committee may decide whether a non-profit is controversial, and if so, they may decide not to give them this status, as that would indirectly fund them through taxpayer money.
The discussion was not about the legality of the organizations – they are both legal non-profits whatever the outcome of the decision. They only arrive to this stage after having gone through vigorous legal and financial scrutiny.
For the committee to reject a non-profit like this, the decision must be backed by two-thirds of the committee, of which at least a third of them must be of the opposition.
Ahead of the meeting, Gafni therefore secured the backing of the opposition leader, Yair Lapid. Despite Lapid’s wishes to build warm ties with Evangelical Christians, and despite voting against Gafni’s anti-missionary law proposal in 2014, he still arrived to support Gafni in the committee. Lapid’s father, a Holocaust survivor, had been a Knesset member in the early 2000s and was strongly opposed to missionary activity. He even cooperated with Gafni in those days. In 2014 during the discussion about the law proposal, Lapid stated in the Knesset that his father had “changed his mind” before he passed away, and then proceeded to object to the law proposal.
Today Lapid arrived with a carefully crafted speech in order to not offend Christians, but still object to the missionary organizations.
“I assume that the members of the committee agree with my view, that we are not attacking other religions here,” Lapid said. “Everyone may believe in what he wants. Israel has freedom of religion, and also freedom from religion. And yet, the Jewish people have a very sad statistic fact – we haven’t recovered from the holocaust yet. There are still fewer Jews in the world today than there were before the Holocaust. The only Jewish State and the Jewish people have a right to defend itself. This decision is about not giving state funding to missionary activity whose purpose it is to convert Jewish children to another religion. I believe I am speaking on behalf of most of the opposition in supporting this law proposal.”
“It’s not a law proposal,” Gafni corrected him. “We just ask to not give them state funding.”
“Right, yes, we support the cancellation of the tax exemption. Again, it’s not an attack against Christianity, or against faiths. It’s about the right of the Jewish people to defend itself in its own country, and to defend its children. So I came here today, invited by the chairman, to say that there is a bipartisan cooperation here which crosses the regular lines of the Israeli politics regarding this.” Lapid didn’t stay for the whole meeting, but only arrived shortly to give that speech.
Gafni’s tactic in the way he set it up was very clear. The entire meeting was one hour and 25 minutes in which one full hour and ten minutes was spent discussing Jehovah’s Witnesses. Extremely little time was given to the Messianic organization. The lawmakers barely got enough time to even understand the differences between the two.
The meeting started with the legal counselor on non-profits to the tax authority and the treasury presented Jehovah’s Witnesses, their faith, their history, and their activities. Lawsuits against them from the past were brought up and their cult-like behavior was expanded upon. The lawmakers heard heart-wrenching stories of people who were cut off from their children or parents, heard of how Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to receive life-saving blood transfusions, vote in elections or serve in the army, and how they bring children with them when going door to door. After hearing and dismissing the claims of the organization’s representatives and lawyers, the committee members all voted unanimously against giving them the status. This took up more than 75% of the time of the meeting.
After that, Gafni gave minimal time to the Messianic organization Yachad. The legal counselor to the tax authority brought up who the Messianic Jews are and what they believe, but it didn’t even seem like anyone was listening, and Gafni was visibly eager to vote as soon as possible. They listened to attorney Rotem Ben-Simhon, of the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, who represented Yachad. But they heard her almost as a mere procedure. The fact that Ben-Simhon rightly pointed out the hypocrisy in the way they put these two organizations together didn’t seem to help – it only caused more antagonism and anger amongst the lawmakers, who were already upset after the horrors they had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses. The final “nail in the coffin” was a short YouTube movie by Maoz Israel, which showed the recording of a Messianic CD for children. The narrator said that this CD is a great tool for the children to “share God’s love with their friends who don’t know God yet.” Evangelism to minors is illegal in Israel, and while that statement wasn’t a proof that they engage in that, it was enough of an indication to push any lawmaker who was uncertain over the edge. They voted unanimously not to grant the article 46 tax benefit to Yachad.
KNI has tried to reach Lapid for a comment, but did not get hold of his office before the publication of the article.
Messianic Jews and Evangelical Christians would do well in asking Yair Lapid for clarifications about this issue before they give him their support.