Photo Credit: Hadas Parush / Flash 90
View of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, in Jerusalem, on November 5, 2018.

The Knesset Finance Committee has temporarily rejected an appeal by the Jehova Witness cult to receive tax-exempt status.

A permanent decision is expected shortly.

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The rejection was issued as a result of efforts by Knesset members Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and Rabbi Yinon Azulai (Shas), according to a statement by tye Yad L’Achim antisemissionary organization.

The committee reached its decision after being presented with clear evidence that the cult preached to minors, in violation of the law.

During the proceedings, representatives of the Justice Ministry and the Tax Authority argued on behalf of granting the missionaries tax-exempt status on the grounds that they had agreed to stop preaching to minors.

Rabbi Gafni responded that just because the missionaries had stopped their illegal activity – preaching to minors is a violation of Clause 368a in the criminal code – was no reason to reward them with tax benefits.

“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,” Rabbi Gafni said.

Rabbi Azulai said that despite the claim of the missionaries that they had removed some of their advertisements aimed at minors, he had in his possession new materials clearly showing that nothing had changed and that they were continuing to target youngsters.

Yad L’Achim, which has been monitoring the case and been providing the committee with definitive proof of the missionaries’ activities, expressed hope that the High Court would not overturn the decision of the Knesset panel, as it did half a year ago.

At that time, Rabbi Gafni, as head of the Knesset Finance Committee, managed to convince all of its members, including those belonging to Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and the Arab parties, to deny the missionaries other types of tax benefits.

However, the High Court overturned the decision.

Yad L’Achim praised the MKs on the committee for standing firm on behalf of Jewish Israelis.

“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 emphasized.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.