“These settlements, and the occupation more broadly, are financially unsustainable on their own, and must be propped up by far right-wing Jewish and Christian Zionist funds from abroad,” a member of a group campaigning against the practice told MintPress News.
US Evangelist John Hagee, center, leads a march of Christians in support of Israel in Jerusalem, Monday April 7, 2008. Photo: Peter Dejong/AP
NEW YORK — As U.S. taxpayers prepare to send to Israel another $3.1 billion of their earnings, plus loan guarantees, discounted weaponry and other perks, two campaigns aim to shed light on organizations funding the Israeli occupation by their own initiative — and at taxpayer expense, no less.
The groups, opponents say, are deeply complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and the human rights of Palestinians.
U.S. government assistance to Israel does not end with the $121 billion in direct aid it has provided since 1949. U.S. charities also send billions of dollars, funded, in part, by taxpayers as a whole through the organizations’ tax-deductible status.
The scale of their support cannot be determined. A 2014 study of over 3,600 Jewish organizations by the Jewish Daily Forward found they sent $1.7 billion, or 11.9 percent of their budgets, to Israel each year.
Further, under normal circumstances, identifying the overseas recipients of these grants can prove impossible, as U.S. organizations have no obligations to release them. Only if most charities choose to publicize their foreign projects will the taxpaying public have the opportunity to know what projects they’re subsidizing.
“Thank God he was killed”
Some organizations hide objectionable activities behind genteel facades.
The Jewish National Fund, a $2.2 billion global behemoth, owns 13 percent of Israeli territory. It plants forests to obstruct the ruins of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian villages, funds the construction of settlement infrastructure, evicts Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, and restricts the use of its land on an explicitly racial basis, while presenting itself to the public as an environmental group.
Yet others are less circumspect.
On March 10, dozens of New York City residents protested outside the tony Waldorf Astoria against a local organization that has never kept its agenda a secret.
The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Manhattan, boasts of its aid to Israeli soldiers. The group organizes dozens of galas and other fundraising events each year through its offices across the United States and Panama.
According to its most recent Form 990 made available by the IRS, the FIDF had gross receipts totalling over $105.3 million in 2013.
Its spending, the group says, “supports social, educational, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the soldiers of the IDF and their families.”
Last November, Amnesty International accused Israel of committing war crimes during its summer 2014 military operation against the Gaza Strip.
“Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused,” Philip Luther, director of AI’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said in a statement.
The offensive killed over 2,200 Palestinians in the besieged enclave, including more than 500 children, during 51 days of bombings and incursions.
“We find it strange that a U.S.-based charitable organization underwrites programs – recreational, educational, and cultural activities – for a foreign army,” Nancy Kricorian, a spokesperson for Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, told MintPress News. “It is hard to imagine the IRS giving nonprofit status to a group that provides such support for the Russian military, or even the Australian armed forces.”
Many of the FIDF’s programs — from the recruitment of Israelis exempt from conscription, to the training of Ethiopian troops, to the construction of housing, medical, recreational, religious and other facilities for military personnel — would in other countries be the responsibility of the armed forces, not a private charity, especially one based abroad.
Kricorian added that the FIDF’s “Lone Soldiers Program” is “particularly problematic.”
“We believe this group’s tax exemption should be revoked,” Kricorian said, citing a sign at the rally: “If your favorite charity occupies, bombs and kills, you’ve got problems.”
Gala attendees saw things differently. Irwin Graulich, president of Bloch Graulich Whelan Inc., an advertising agency, and, according to his personal website, an “exciting Jewish motivational speaker,” responded to a protester reading the name of a Palestinian killed by the Israeli military in Gaza last summer by yelling, “Thank God he was killed,” before launching into a protracted rant on video.
“Funds for the support of an illegal occupation should not be tax-deductible”
Thousands of miles from the Waldorf, international activists have launched an attempt to publicize the activities of another New York City group.
The Brooklyn-based Hebron Fund, which also holds 501(c)(3) status, sends direct support to the 500 Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron. Their presence is widely considered illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer of civilians into an occupied territory.
After Baruch Goldstein, a settler in nearby Kiryat Arba, opened fire on Palestinian worshippers in Hebron’s ancient Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29 and wounding over 125, Israeli forces imposed severe restrictions on the movements of hundreds of thousands of local Palestinians.
Many of these restrictions remain in effect today, such as a ban on Palestinian use of Shuhada Street, the main local thoroughfare reserved by occupation forces for the small minority of Israeli settlers, as well as military roadblocks and checkpoints throughout Hebron.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group of foreign volunteers working with local Palestinians, says the Hebron Fund’s support for the settlers, along with its own activities in the city, have contributed to making life in Hebron intolerable.
“The Hebron Fund raises money to support these settlements, which are illegal under international law, as well as the soldiers currently occupying Hebron,” a CPT member in Hebron, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, told MintPress. “These settlements, and the occupation more broadly, are financially unsustainable on their own, and must be propped up by far right-wing Jewish and Christian Zionist funds from abroad.”
The Hebron Fund’s 2013 receipts, totalling less than $2.4 million, may seem tiny compared with those of the FIDF. But spread among a few hundred settlers, several million dollars goes a long way.
The group also finances the development of settlement infrastructure, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and in contravention of U.S. foreign policy, which also considers the settlements illegitimate.
According to CPT, the Hebron Fund’s own activities often wreak havoc in the city.
“Every Saturday, the Hebron Fund organizes a tour of the Old City of Hebron for settlers and tourists,” the CPT member said. “This tour involves visitors and at least 30 soldiers and Border Police marching through Palestinian neighborhoods. Settlers often chant and sing songs, and sometimes yell threats at Palestinian children nearby. Soldiers refuse to let Palestinians pass, and often ID check or detain Palestinians near the tour.”
Residents hoping to escape the upheaval cannot necessarily do so in their own homes, the member said. “Last week, soldiers invaded four houses to guard the parade from the families’ rooftops. That number is about average.”
CPT, which launched its campaign with an online petition, is currently preparing informational materials on the Hebron Fund for use by supporters overseas. With them, the organization hopes, more people can learn about the situation in Hebron and the role of U.S. contributions in perpetuating it.
“Funds for the support of an illegal occupation should not be tax-deductible,” the CPT member said.