Tuvia Pollack | June 17, 2021
The Supreme Court of Israel ruled yesterday in favor of granting tax-deductible donation status to a nonprofit organization of Israeli followers of Jesus. The ruling sharply criticized outgoing head of the Knesset Finance Committee for showing unfair and illegal bias against the Jewish followers of Jesus, generally known here in Israel as Messianic believers. The decision is being hailed by both Messianics and Evangelical Christians as a dramatic victory for religious freedom in Israel.
HOW THE CASE CAME ABOUT
In October 2020, the Knesset Finance Committee, led by ultra-Orthodox politician Moshe Gafni, ruled to reject tax-deductible donation status to the Messianic organization, Yachad, which runs the Messianic congregation Tiferet Yeshua. Yachad appealed the decision.
On Tuesday, the High Court of Justice ruled in Yachad’s favor ordering the Knesset Finance Committee to grant the nonprofit status known as “section 46.” Here are some excerpts from the 41-page long court ruling:
“The decision of the Finance Committee was based on an incorrect assumption, that they had the authority to take into consideration that a nonprofit is engaged in ‘controversial’ activity. Based on the tax authority’s examination, the organization’s missionary activity is not bound to illegal activity. The representatives of the Knesset also confirmed that the decision was value-based, that it is improper to finance a religious organization seeking to convert Jews, even if their activity is legal. … This confirms that the committee overreached in its authority.” “It is not enough that there is a public controversy, no matter how deep, to define that a non-profit [is not entitled to the status]. Personal emotions or deep disagreements is not enough either, especially as long as the activity is legal. … This is especially important for organizations engaged in religious services, which is already controversial as it is, and the importance of freedom of religion and of conscience. This issue is sharpened by the fact that there are many Christian organizations who have received this status in the past.”
Judge Daphne Barak-Erez stated that a proper court order would be to ask the Finance Committee to renew the discussion, but in this case, the “discussion has already taken place.” As no one could find any illegal activity which would prevent the status, and taking into consideration that they have requested this since 2013, and since the only reason to reject the status is that it’s “controversial,” the court ordered the status of section 46 to be granted to Yachad.
The other two judges also added their comments, and both agreed with the decision. Judge Isaac Amit wrote that the committee had overreached, and that it adopted “an obscure criterion of ‘controversial,’ which could lead to an arbitrary use of section 46, and harm unrepresented minorities.” He also stated that the committee had made its decision based on “feelings, beliefs and opinions, and not on any factual basis … which is enough to dismiss its decision.”
The third judge, Judge Anat Baron, agreed with the other two, and added that “the criteria of ‘controversy’ enables decisions based upon extraneous considerations, prejudice, inequality, and arbitrariness. … This obscure criteria also expels nonprofits like these ‘off the field’, as it represents a religious movement in minority and which isn’t in the public consensus.” She even added that the new procedure which the committee adopted raises the fear that it was “tailored” for this case, as the procedure was established while this specific nonprofit was under discussion.
As Israel has just inaugurated a new government, Gafni is no longer the head of the Finance Committee. He released the following statement: “The High Court judges, in a snatch on the last day of me heading the Finance Committee, canceled the Knesset’s authority to discuss issues which the legislator has authorized the Knesset to have. The Finance Committee set a procedure to not give section 46 status to missionary organizations who are against the law, and members from both the coalition and opposition confirmed it. The High Court canceled the decision and turned [the Finance Committee] into a rubber stamp. … I suggest that the judges of the High Court should not complain when there will be battles about reducing their authority, after their blunt interference in the duties of the legislative branch.”
Gil Afriat, pastor of Tiferet Yeshua congregation, told ALL ISRAEL NEWS his organization welcomed the Supreme Court decision. “We thank God that, as Menachem Begin said, ‘there are judges in Jerusalem’ who protect the rights of minorities and apply the standards of equality and freedom of religion according to the spirit and values of the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “We hope that this decision which came after eight years of legal battle will open the doors for many other Messianic congregations to receive this tax credit status and that it will benefit the Messianic public in Israel in large. Moreover, we pray that prejudice and discrimination will continue to break as truth shines forth.”