Two Labour MPs have said that people who financially support charities outside Israel’s Green Line should not be entitled to British tax benefits.
Richard Burden and Jeremy Corbyn have asked Parliament to prevent the tax benefits, which apply to all charities registered in Britain, extending to organisations such as British Friends of Ariel University (BFAU).
Ariel University, which educates 12,000 Israeli, Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Druze students, is located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel and is the first university beyond the Green Line, controversially upgrading its status from a college at the end of last year.
Mr Burden, the MP for Birmingham Northfield and chair of the Britain-Palestine Parliamentary Group, said the government should check that BFAU funds were being used for the university and not “settlement activity that contravenes international law.
“We need to make sure that the funds are raised in accordance with Ariel University’s objectives and not [for] settlements.
“I’ve asked the Treasury and Foreign Office what is being done to ensure that the UK complies with the UN Resolution and European Council decision against settlement activity — but so far answers have been circular.”
Mr Burden said his suspicions stemmed from the university’s name.
“The name is the key because it’s the name of Jerusalem in the Torah and it’s the name of one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. I’m trying to find out what’s going on. The answers I’ve got are not illuminating but I will keep pushing and asking the questions to find out whether BFAU funds are actually being used for settlement activity in occupied territory.”
Mr Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, has also raised questions in Parliament on the issue.
But Professor Geoffrey Alderman, guest lecturer at Ariel University, and JC columnist, said the MPs’ opposition was because the university “is Jewish. If it was a Palestinian university they wouldn’t object.
“For heaven’s sake, this is an educational establishment with many Palestinian as well as Jewish students,” he added.
Professor Yoel Cohen, from Ariel University, said: “There’s a clear need for the university, it makes an important contribution to education and our socio-economic situation. Ariel is at a key point in its development and there’s no reason why British Jews or non-Jews shouldn’t contribute.”
An Israeli survey last week indicated that 65 per cent of respondents supported the move to upgrade Ariel College. But British Foreign Secretary William Hague last year said the upgrade was “particularly regrettable because it comes at a time when the British government has taken a firm stand against those who seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by boycotting educational and cultural institutions.”