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Israel uses anti-boycott law to attack Amnesty

Funding of rights group to be targeted for its stance against Jewish colonies

Gulf News

Occupied Jerusalem: Amnesty International said Tuesday it was alarmed at reports Israel was planning to target its funding in retaliation for its stance against Jewish colonies in the occupied West Bank.

The Israel Hayom daily ran a two-page story Tuesday saying the London-based rights group would be the first organisation hit by a 2011 law which penalises those who advocate boycotting the country or products from its colonies.

The freesheet, which is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Finance Minister Moshe Kahalon had decided to use the legislation to remove the tax-free status of donations to Amnesty’s Israel branch.

Haaretz daily said the finance ministry would summon Amnesty representatives to a hearing before implementing the change.

It is the first instance of implementing the 2011 Anti-Boycott law.

“The reports that the Israeli government plans to punish Amnesty International over its colonies campaign are deeply alarming,” the group said in a statement.

“While we have not been officially informed of any such action by the authorities, if true, this 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 and without arbitrary interference.”

The finance ministry did not issue any statement on the issue Tuesday and did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.

Netanyahu’s government, seen as the most right-wing in Israel’s history, passed legislation in March banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the Jewish state or its colonies, which are illegal under international law.

It sees the boycott movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism - a claim activists deny, saying they only want to see an end to Israel’s occupation.

Last year, Israel budgeted 118 million shekels ($32 million, 30 million euros) to fight the high-profile BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

Amnesty said that removing its tax-exempt status would be “the latest effort by the authorities to silence human rights organisations and activists who criticise the Israeli government and call for accountability.”