Why is Israel a charity case for Canada?



Over the past two weeks Canada has seen its most significant ever outpouring of support for Palestinian rights. More than 150,000 letters have been sent to Canadian officials calling on Ottawa to criticize Israel human rights violations or to sanction Israel.

Tens of thousands have also taken to the streets to denounce Israel’s violence. In the largest mobilization, upwards of 1,000 vehicles were part of a multi-hour caravan in Montréal and more than 5,000 rallied/marched in the city on May 14. Around 5,000 rallied on two consecutive weekends in Toronto. Many thousands also participated in car caravans, rallies or marches in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Halifax, Saskatoon, Guelph, Victoria, Charlottetown, Lethbridge, Winnipeg, Oakville, Kitchener, Sudbury, Red Deer, Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, Saint John, Calgary, Québec City and elsewhere. In most cases they were among the largest pro-Palestinian demonstrations ever held in those communities.

The outpouring of pro-Palestinian sympathy is uplifting. But if we want to ‘turn the tide against Israeli apartheid’ we need to focus on ending Canada’s immense complicity in Palestinian dispossession.

Though little discussed, the most important support Canada has offered Israel in recent decades is tax deductible charitable donations. In 2018 registered Canadian charities raised over a quarter billion dollars in tax-deductible charitable donations for Israel-focused projects.

Since the federal government introduced deductions for charities in 1967 billions of dollars in subsidized donations have gone to Israel. In 1991 the Ottawa Citizen estimated that more than $100 million a year was raised for Israel and possibly as much as $200 million. Assuming $100 million has been sent to Israel yearly since 1967 and with approximately 30% of the $5.4 billion total subsidized by the taxpayer that’s around $1.7 billion in Canadian public support.

But there’s little discussion of the public funds that have gone to Israel through charitable donations. With the exception of the campaign to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, which won a partial victory recently, there’s been almost no activism targeting Canadian charitable support for Israel. This despite some of these donations violating Canadian charity law. Funds supporting West Bank settlements, explicitly racist institutions and the Israeli military probably contravene Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regulations.

The Canadian government restricts registered charities from supporting other countries’ militaries. CRA guidelines note, “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.”

But numerous registered charities support the Israeli military. The Jewish National Fund of Canada has openly financed numerous projects supporting the Israeli military while Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel and Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel) have directly or indirectly supported the IDF. In 2018 the Toronto-based HESEG Foundation, which was established “to recognize and honor the contribution of Lone Soldiers to Israel,” spent more than $9 million in Israel.

Without any direct pressure from the Palestine solidarity movement, Beth Oloth Charitable Organization lost its charitable status two years ago for “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces”. With $61 million raised in 2017, it was also cited for funding projects in the occupied West Bank. (As much as the political questions, Beth Oloth appears to have lost its charitable status due to a small number of staff, huge spike in donations, and its role as a “conduit” for funding from other groups.)

A number of registered charities support settlement projects directly or indirectly. The Jewish National Fund of Canada built Canada Park on the remnants of three Palestinian villages Israel occupied after the June 1967 War. Christian Friends of Israeli Communities has said it “provides financial” support to “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria” (occupied West Bank). Located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Canadian Friends of Ariel University is also a registered charity.

Racist organization should also be excluded from receiving taxpayer subsidies. According to a 2003 CRA directive, the organization is supposed to promote racial equality. Yet the Jewish National Fund, which raised $7.7 million for Israeli projects in 2018, practices a form of legalistic discrimination outlawed by the Canadian Supreme Court seven-decades ago. A serious investigation of registered Canadian charities operating in Israel would likely uncover support for other racist organizations in Israel.

In fact, the entire thrust of Israel-focused charity funding is racist. Often framed as poverty alleviation, very little of the Canadian donations actually reach the poorest individuals living under Israel’s control. Basically none of the Canadian taxpayers subsidized money supports Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. Even within “Israel proper” little of the Canadian charity money likely goes to the Arab Israelis — as much as 50% of the poorest in Israel — communities.

While not against current CRA regulations, there’s a strong argument to be made against Canadian taxpayers subsidizing donations to hospitals, universities, etc. in “Israel proper”. Is it right for all Canadians to pay a share of some individuals’ donations to a country with a GDP equal to Canada’s? How many Canadian charities funnel money to Sweden or Japan? Is the Israeli government subsidizing Canadian orchestras, museums, guide dog centres, nature conservatory, universities, hospitals, etc? (Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Canadian Association For Labour Israel and Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum are among the many registered charities that raised over a quarter billion dollars for Israel-focused projects in 2018.)

Irrespective of CRA regulations, activists who promote the aims of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement should push to outlaw donations to Israel until that country complies with international law. As they’ve done with other countries, federal government sanctions on Israel should seek to cut off the flow of money from Canada (in compliance with international law).

It’s important for the Palestine solidarity movement to challenge subsidized charitable donations to Israel. The demand is partly about pressing the Canada Revenue Agency to apply its own rules and the campaign can be framed as a way to save taxpayers money.


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