While Israeli elites regularly get away with tax evasion, authorities use them, Soviet and Chinese-style, to shut down Omar Barghouti
What a clever way to destroy the career of a Palestinian activist. He founded an international movement, BDS, so arresting him for espionage or on a political pretext would invoke the world's wrath on Israel.
So you look for an alternative and rip a page from the early FBI, which couldn’t topple Al Capone by conventional means. So it chose an alternative: taxes.
Got a guy who’s a thorn in your side? Does he promise to embarrass you on the world stage? Trump up some charge, take away his passport, even arrest him
To add some context and motivation for this witch-hunt: at an anti-BDS conference held last year in Israel, ministers fell all over themselves to promise what they would do to destroy the international non-violent movement. One even called for the “civil” targeted assassination of the group and its leaders. This certainly put a target on Barghouti’s back, who was mentioned explicitly as someone the government would target, if not destroy.
The allegations against Barghouti are that he earned $700,000 from a Palestinian company, for which he was a director, that owned and serviced ATMs. As an Israeli resident, he theoretically should have paid taxes on these earnings. Instead, so the claim goes, he spirited the money to Palestinian and US banks, and never declared the income.
The idea of imprisoning Barghouti for the alleged failure to pay taxes has a nice ring to it for the Israeli government. Since the BDS leader wants to boycott us, let’s get him where it hurts. Let’s make him pay the state he hates or go to jail. To an Israeli super-nationalist, it’s almost divine justice.
Periodically, you’ll hear about some poor shlub who got nabbed for tax evasion. But he didn’t share a family name with any of the Israeli elite families
Since I am not an Israeli tax attorney, I can’t argue about or against the charges. But I can note how absolutely hypocritical they are. Every wealthy Israeli, and I mean virtually every one, has a tax avoidance strategy. Some have offshore accounts on the Isle of Jersey. Others went to Mossack Fonseca to have trusts created on their behalf as confirmed in the Panama Papers.
This includes many Israeli politicians (including Bibi himself) and virtually all of the 18 oligarch families who own 60 percent of the nation’s capital. Nor do they squirrel away a few hundred thousands dollars as Barghouti allegedly did. They hide millions, if not tens of millions, in income from Israeli tax authorities.
You almost never hear of any powerful Israelis arrested or charged for such offences. Periodically, you’ll hear about some poor shlub who got nabbed for tax evasion. But he didn’t share a family name with any of the Israeli elite families.
Isn’t it curious that none of the Israeli reporting on this story mentions the offences of virtually an entire class of wealthy Israeli Jewish individuals who, in tax evasion terms, get away with murder?
Israeli authorities seem to be persecuting Barghouti in the same fashion they harassed Azmi Bishara. They charged him with money laundering on behalf of Israeli enemies like Hezbollah. But the Shabak never forbade him from leaving Israel, which is precisely what he did. Yet another in a long line of forced expulsions (or involuntary exile) of “dangerous” Palestinian leaders who threaten the prerogatives of the state.
This banana republic is resorting to the tactics of the former Soviet regime and the current Chinese regime. Got a guy who’s a thorn in your side? Does he promise to embarrass you on the world stage? Trump up some charge, take away his passport, even arrest him so he can’t accept that Nobel Prize.
In Barghouti’s case the NGO, Promoting Enduring Peace, plans to bestow upon him the Gandhi Peace Award next month at Yale University. Past recipients of the prize have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, Martin Luther King Jr, George McGovern, Dorothy Day, Daniel Ellsberg, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and Medea Benjamin. The Israeli police have conveniently confiscated his passport so he can’t accept it. If they forbid him from travelling there, we must all do our best to ensure that the award ceremony is as widely known as possible inside and outside Israel.
Globes, the Israeli business publication whose story I linked above, has made one major mistake in its coverage: the Gandhi Award has nothing to do with the government of India, as the reporter states. There is a separate prize in Indira Gandhi’s name which is completely independent of the US-based Gandhi Award.
In a related development, Anti-BDS Minister (yes, there is such a thing) Gilad Erdan, told the security cabinet he intended to begin compiling a database of Israeli supporters of BDS. The dossiers would include all relevant personal information available on these dangerous, seditious figures. I might add, that the targets would likely include individuals I hold in highest esteem.
Why does any democratic nation (or at least one calling itself one) need to assign secret police to compile dossiers and spy on citizens supporting social justice and non-violent change?
There was a wee, small problem with Erdan's plan: the attorney general thought it was a terrible idea. He said there is no statutory authority for a civilian ministry to spy on or maintain files on Israeli citizens. Besides, he said, the Shabak was already tasked with such a mission.
You can be sure that most of the Israeli activists you’ve read about on my blog or in other progressive publications have their own personal Shabak files. Why do you need overkill with a second agency monitoring the same people? Why does any democratic nation (or at least one calling itself one) need to assign secret police to compile dossiers and spy on citizens supporting social justice and non-violent change?
Furthermore, the US-based Israel Studies Association, which itself was an academic discipline largely funded by wealthy pro-Israel donors seeking to present Israel in a flattering light in the classroom, protested to the Israeli government that it can no longer hold any meetings in Israel. It seems that some of its members support what I call "BDS Lite", a boycott of settlement products. Even these liberal Zionists might be deported from the Jewish homeland for the crime of supporting BDS.
Can you imagine an association of French or German studies professors whose work would be criminalised in the countries they studied, so they could never visit the places on which their entire professional lives are based?
- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Palestinian researcher, commentator, and human rights activist Omar Barghouti speaks during a conference at the ULB university in Brussels, on 30 April 2013 (AFP)