Charities that promote racism against Palestinians, illegal West Bank settlements, the armed forces of another country and racial/religious purity in Israel are subsidized by Canadian taxpayers. Incredibly, people of conscience are being forced to launch legal complaints with the Canada Revenue Agency to end these subsidies that violate their policies.
There are as many as 300 Israel focused registered charities, which are able to provide tax receipts for donations and are exempt from paying certain taxes. The wealthiest of these groups, United Israel Appeal of Canada, raised $94 million in 2018. Two or three times that sum is raised annually by other Israel focused charities.
A country with a GDP per capita equal to Canada’s, Israel receives a wildly disproportionate share of all funds raised by registered charities for international projects. Canadian charities raised about $3.5 billion in 2018 for international initiatives with a quarter of a billion dollars going to Israel. In other words, around 8% of these donations went to a nation with 0.13% of the world’s population or 60 times its per capita share.
Canadians have long raised funds for Israel. In the early 1900s Canadian Zionists sent millions of dollars to support the nascent colonial movement. In maybe the most controversial project, Canadians put up $1 million ($15 million today) for 7,500 acres of coastal territory located about halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) acquired legal title to Wadi al-Hawarith in 1928 from an absentee landlord in France and sought to have the British evict the Palestinians who’d been living on the land for centuries. The conflict at Wadi al-Hawarith became a lightning rod for the growing Palestinian nationalist movement.
Fundraising grew in subsequent decades. When the tax code was modified in 1967 to allow tax-deductible charitable giving United Israel Appeal, JNF and other Israel focused groups immediately gained charitable status. A 1991 Ottawa Citizen story titled “Their Brothers Keepers” reported “Canadian Jews cherish their special bond with Israel giving far more per person than Jews in the United States”. The story noted that at least $100 million went to Israel annually “and perhaps as much as $200 million.” A 1996 Toronto Star investigation found there were 300 different groups raising funds for Israel.
To get a sense of the scope of the donations today, Charity Report published an investigation into the funding of the Top 20 Private Foundations in Canada, which represent 75% of total private foundation giving. According to the December report Who Gives and Who Gets: The Beneficiaries of Private Foundation Philanthropy, the top recipient was Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) at $89 million while the University of Toronto was in second place with $59 million and the Israeli-military-focused Heseg Foundation was third with $45 million. Of the $1.6 billion dished out by private foundations between 2014 and 2018, 0.2% went to support Indigenous organizations and 0.1% to racialized communities, meaning a single Israeli university received 20 times that of all Indigenous and people of color organizations.
More than other universities, Technion has substantial ties to the Israeli military. “Technion has all but enlisted itself in the Israeli armed forces”, noted a pamphlet by New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership. It has various research and student initiatives with the IDF. Technion, for instance, developed a remote-controlled bulldozer, whichthe IDF uses to demolish Palestinian homes.
Some Technion Canada funds are specifically allocated to strengthen its ties to the Israeli military. In an April story titled “Helping Those Who Guard Israel” Technion Canada reported, “Brothers Richard (Rick) and Barry Sacks and their families are long-time Technion supporters. They recently chose to help fund Technion’s Program to Support Students in the IDF, a unique program that provides specialized support to students whose education is interrupted by Miluim [reserve duty] service.”
Technion’s support for the IDF may contravene CRA rules, which state that “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.”
The HESEG Foundation definitely violates those guidelines. Established “to recognize and honor the contribution of Lone Soldiers to Israel”, Heseg provides scholarships and other forms of support to Torontonians, New Yorkers and other non-Israelis (Lone Soldiers) who join the IDF. For the IDF high command — the Heseg Board includes a handful of top military officials — “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to pressure/reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behavior. At the first Heseg Foundation Grants Awards Ceremony in 2005 Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that “Encouraging and supporting young individuals from abroad” to become lone soldiers “directly supports the morale of the IDF”. After the IDF killed 1400 Palestinians in Gaza during operation Cast Lead in 2009 Heseg delivered $160 000 in gifts to IDF soldiers who took part in the violence.
It’s not only Heseg that supports the Israeli military. In 2019 the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA) allocated over $1.7 million to YAHAD, which says its “aim is raising funds for IDF soldiers”. Until a formal complaint was instigated (more below) an IDF website named CZCA as one of six international organizations “authorized to raise donations for the IDF.”
Similarly, the Jewish National Fund of Canada has openly supported the IDF. Canada Charity Partners provides tax credits for donations to the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which supports non-Israelis in the IDF “before, during, and after their service”. Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel) is another charity that aids the IDF.
While a slightly less clear-cut violation of the rules, registered charities are also prohibited from supporting Israeli initiatives in West Bank settlements since Ottawa officially considers them a violation of international law. When the issue received public attention in the mid-1990s the head of the CRA’s Charities Division, Carl Juneau, told the Toronto Star, “the issue here is whether an organization should be subsidized by the tax system to send funds to promote something that’s counter to government policy.” Dismissive of efforts to restrict charities operating in the West Bank, Ottawa tax lawyer and settlement defender Arthur Drache claimed at the time, “there are hundreds of organizations . . . that are supporting organizations directly or indirectly beyond the Green Line (in the West Bank).”
Today, a number of registered charities openly enable the colonization of the West Bank. Located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Canadian Friends of Ariel University is a registered charity. So is Canadian Friends Yeshivat Har Etzion, which is located in the illegally occupied settlement of Alon Shvut. According to Yeshivat Har Etzion’sWikipedia page, “most of the students are Israelis in the hesder program, which integrates intensive yeshiva study with at least 15 months of active service in the Israel Defense Forces.”
Canadian Friends Of Yeshivath Birkat Moshe-Maaleh Adumim supports a religious school in the West Bank colony of Ma’ale Adumim. It was established by Montreal-born and raised rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch who in 1996 called for planting roadside bombs if Israeli soldiers sought to remove settlers from the West Bank. For its part, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities says it “provides financial” support to “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria” (West Bank).
A number of Israel-focused charities are explicitly racist, which also contravenes CRA rules.
According to a 2003 CRA directive, the organization is supposed to promote racial equality while Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom prohibits explicit racial discrimination.
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. In fact, exclusionary land use policies are the JNF’s raison d’être.
A leading campaigner against miscegenation (the interbreeding of people considered of different racial/religious types) is a registered charity. Canadian Friends Of Yad Lachim Organization raises funds for a group that seeks to stop Jews and non-Jews from dating. Its website states that it leads the “battle against assimilation and intermarriage” and in 2019 the director of Yad L’Achim’s Special Projects, Yossi Eliav, told the Jerusalem Post “it’s almost impossible for a Westerner to imagine how totally trapped a Jewish woman is in an Arab village.” Their literature warns Jewish women about the dangers of dating an “Arab” and in 2014 Yad L’Achim participated in a high-profile campaign to pressure a Jewish woman to call off her wedding with a Palestinian. The group operates a “24-hour hotline” to offer women a way out of their relationship with “an ethnic minority”. They reportedly even collect identification card information of Jewish women seen socializing with Palestinians. Active with Yad L’Achim in “protecting” Jewish women from non-Jewish men for years, Yaakov ‘Jack’ Teitel was convicted in 2012 of killing two Arabs in racially motivated violence.
Over the past two decades a number of Israel focused charities have lost their charitable status. Two years ago Beth Oloth Charitable Organization lost its ability to provide tax credits for “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces” and funding projects in the West Bank. As much as the political questions, Beth Oloth appears to have lost its charitable status due to a barely functioning board, its role as a “conduit” for funding from other groups and its donations growing from a few thousand dollars in 2011 to $61 million in 2017.
Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel lost its charitable status in 2002 for providing ambulances to the IDF, supporting settlements and poor financial practices. In 1996 Toronto Zionist Council lost its charitable status for channelling money to West Bank settlements.
In an indication of the number and politically charged nature of the Israel focused groups, charity specialist Mark Blumberg pointed out in a 2007 presentation to the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto that “3 of 4 recent court cases dealing with Canadian charities operating abroad deal with Jewish/Israeli charities.”
If an average of one hundred million dollars a year has been raised by Israel focused charities since the federal government established charity legislation in 1967 that would amount to over $5 billion. With tax credits accounting for up to 40% of donations, taxpayers could well have covered $1.5 billion of that sum.
While Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or Canadian Friends of Dental Volunteers for Israel may be less offensive than groups supporting the Israeli military, racist organizations or colonies in the West Bank, should Canadian taxpayers be subsidizing a wealthy, far away, state? How many Canadian charities funnel money to Denmark or Japan?
But it’s worse than simply Canadian taxpayers subsidizing a wealthy country. Israel regularly bombs its neighbours and practises what Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, many South African officials and millions of Palestinians have labeled “apartheid”. If Ottawa ever adopted the S demand of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), it could be illegal for Canadians to support Israeli groups.
In a bid to shine a light on this important, if little discussed, subject the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute recently hosted a webinar titled “Subsidizing Apartheid: How the Canada Revenue Agency Contributes to Palestinian Dispossession.” It was part of a formal legal complaint submitted to the CRA by Palestinian-Canadian refugee Khaled Mouammar and Rabbi David Mivasair regarding the charitable status of the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA). The complaint details that organization’s support of the Israeli military in contravention of CRA rules.
The campaign targeting Canadian charities echoes similar efforts elsewhere. In the US activists recently launched Defund Racism targeting a half dozen Israel focused charities and seven congresspeople sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury calling for an end to tax exemptions for groups funding the colonization of the West Bank.
Registered charities represent Canada’s most significant contribution to Palestinian dispossession. It’s long past time the Canada Revenue Agency stopped subsidizing apartheid.