No tax exemption for missionary organization that preached to minors, Knesset rules

Knesset committee denies tax-exempt status to missionary organization, but Supreme Court has overturned previous ruling on the matter.

By World Israel News Staff

The Knesset’s Finance Committee, headed by MKs Moshe Gafni and Yinon Azulai, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties respectively, denied a request on Sunday for tax-exempt status made by an organization that aims to convert Israeli Jews to Christianity.

Religious, cultural, educational, and welfare-oriented organizations are typically granted tax-exempt status under Israeli law, which means that their donors receive tax benefits.

Because the admitted missionary organization had promised to stop proselytizing to minors – an act which is illegal under Israeli law, but a tactic often used by missionaries – the group should be given tax-exempt status, argued officials from the Justice Ministry and Tax Authority.

Hebrew language news site B’Hedrei Haredim reported that Gafni responded to that line of reasoning angrily.

“It is like saying we should acquit a thief at his trial because he promised to stop stealing, when he is still deserving to be punished for the crimes he already violated,” he said.

Azulai said that while the group had pledged to stop violating the law by preaching to minors, he had evidence that the organization was continuing to distribute missionary material to Israelis under the age of 18.

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Anti-missionary watchdog group Yad L’Achim praised the decision, but said the fact the organization was even permitted to apply for tax exempt status was indicative of a deeper problem within the Jewish State.

“It is inconceivable that missionaries who act to convert Jews out of their religion should receive tax benefits worth millions of shekels at the expense of the taxpayer,” the organization said in a statement.

In June 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court made an unprecedented ruling which overturned a Finance Committee decision to deny tax-exempt status to a different missionary group.

At the time, prominent rabbi and anti-missionary activist Tovia Singer told World Israel News that the Supreme Court decision was “unfortunate, and contravenes previous decisions on missionary matters.”

He cited previous unanimous decisions by the Supreme Court which denied state legitimacy to missionary organizations.

“Unfortunately, there are high-up people in the Israeli government that have given a green light for this kind of thing to go on, in exchange for Evangelical support,” Singer said.