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Campaigners Are Planning A Tax-Strike For Gaza

Above photo: Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images.

‘Your tax is funding genocide.’

A new campaign is asking people to stop paying their taxes in protest at the British government’s support for Israel. 

The No Tax for Genocide campaign, which launched on Thursday, wants 100,000 people to pledge to withhold income and council tax. The group estimates this could deprive the Treasury of £700m in a year.

Inspired by the Don’t Pay campaign, which may have forced the government to freeze energy prices in 2022 by threatening a strike, the group claims that paying taxes to the British government amounts to aiding and abetting genocide, and could be illegal under international law. Withholding tax, on the other hand, could be legal under certain circumstances, it claims. 

“The British taxpayer and businesses, anyone paying to the treasury, is currently culpable in war crimes,” said organiser Ashish Prashar. “[Your tax is] funding a genocide, it’s funding mass atrocities.

“This is an opportunity for the British public to tell the government: ‘You’re not in control here’. We’ve asked them on the streets, we’ve asked them with our feet, week after week, to stop this … And they’ve ignored us and gaslit us. This is a way for the public to show their muscle.”

The government has refused to condemn Israeli war crimes or to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, despite the International Court of Justice finding it “plausible” that Israel has committed genocide, and the Palestinian death toll now exceeding 30,000 people, including at least 13,000 children. 

Instead, Britain continues to provide military assistance to Israel. In February, the Ministry of Defence admitted that nine Israeli military aircrafts had been allowed to land and take off from British bases since 7 October, and nearly 50 Royal Air Force aircrafts had been flown to Israel. 

“What the public wants right now is a stop to genocide,” Prashar said. “A stop to the indiscriminate mass killing of Palestinians, a stop to waking up every morning and seeing babies’ bodies shredded by Israeli missiles, bullets or bombs that are supplied by the British and the Americans.

“That’s why I think we’re going to see mass appeal in this.”

Prashar, a political strategist who worked for Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, collaborated on the campaign with Salma Kalisvaart, from Palestine Liberation Movement UK, and peace activist Chris Coverdale. In 2015, Coverdale was imprisoned for 42 days for refusing to pay council tax. He argued at the time that it would be a criminal offence under the Terrorism Act to pay tax when it was being used to fund “illegal foreign warfare”, but a court rejected his argument. He was refused a judicial review and served a short sentence in Lewes prison. 

The No Tax for Genocide campaign appears to be relying on a similar argument, but Prashar said he felt confident. “There was a lot of deliberation,” he said. “It came together with a lot of research, a lot of due diligence.

“A lot of people have tried tax resistance for lots of causes. There’s very little out there that allows you to do this legally … [But] we found ways … You can’t do this on every issue you disagree with the government on, but you can do it on this because the government has actually signed up to treaties saying you can’t fund mass atrocities.”

Campaigners claim to have worked with lawyers (who do not want to be named for their own protection) to create an entirely new mechanism for withholding tax “legally”. It hinges on the premise that by “aiding and abetting” mass atrocities in Gaza, Britain is violating three international human rights treaties it signed up to.

Everybody who pledges to take part will be asked to inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of their plan to withhold tax on the same day, when the website reaches 100,000 sign-ups. They will then begin paying their taxes into a trust instead of to the tax office. If the government proves in court that it is not complicit in war crimes within a year, the money will be released to HMRC. 

“They’re going to have to show why weapons licences in the middle of a genocide were continued to be approved,” Prashar said. “They’ll have to ask why we weren’t calling for a ceasefire. And this case could take years. And in that time the government is not going to get its money back … So the public will have power in this moment.”

There is no legal precedent to suggest the plan will work; Prashar admitted it had never been done before and so the framework had not been tested. 

But he said he knew of one small business that had already decided to withhold tax. HMRC did not initially respond by demanding that it pay or threatening further action. Prashar said organisers were encouraged by this: “We knew at that point that this is a goer”. 

In a letter sent to the business owner in March, and shared with Novara Media, a representative for HMRC said: “There are no provisions for anyone to withhold tax, or decide which part of government expenditure they would like their payments allocated to or excluded from on grounds of conscience, or because they disagree with certain aspects of government spending or action.”

If the government did come down hard on tax strikers, they could perhaps take comfort in safety in numbers – the action will not go ahead until 100,000 people have pledged. The Don’t Pay campaign used a similar strategy, asking 1m people to break the law together in order to cripple energy companies and to make legal reprisals difficult. 

Prashar, however, said the 100,000 figure is more about leverage than security in this case. “We have to think about what numbers will actually stop a genocide. You know, 100,000 people, that’s 700m knocked out of the Treasury. But my goal really is to have 3m people … If you could get close to 10% of the UK not paying tax, that’s going to cripple the country and make the government change policy. 

“The British public does not want this done in their name. The British public doesn’t want to be funding this. People just don’t want to see any more babies being blown up. At a baseline level, whatever you believe about Israel-Palestine, most people want a ceasefire. And they don’t want their money contributing to [genocide].”

When asked for comment, HMRC directed Novara Media to a page on its website, “What will happen if you do not pay your tax bill”.

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