Canadian taxpayers are subsidizing charities that support the Israel Defense Services (IDF), promote racism against Palestinians, fund illegal West Bank settlements, and advocate for racial and religious purity in Israel.
Canada is home to as many as three hundred Israel-focused registered charities. These charities 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 more than $93 million in 2018. Two or three times that sum is raised annually by other Israel-focused charities.
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 percent of these donations went to a nation with 0.13 percent of the world’s population. Or, put another way, Israel received sixty times its per-capita share in donations from Canadian charities. Given that the Middle Eastern nation’s GDP is, per capita, equal to Canada’s, it is hard to rationalize the massive sums doled out to it by the country’s charities.
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 Canada Revenue Agency (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.
It is preposterous that people and organizations of conscience have had to attempt to end these subsidies by launching legal complaints against the CRA. These organizations shouldn’t have charitable status in the first place.
“Helping Those Who Guard Israel”
Canadians have been raising funds for Israel for a very long time. In the early 1900s, Canadian Zionists sent millions of dollars to support the nascent colonial movement. In the late 1920s, Canadians put up $1 million ($15 million today) for what was at the time one of the most controversial settler-colonial projects: the purchase of land around Wadi al-Hawarith, consisting of 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. They 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.
In the subsequent decades, fundraising for the project grew. When the Canadian 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. In 1991, Ottawa Citizen reported that “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 three hundred 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 twenty private foundations in Canada, which represent 75 percent of total private foundation giving. According to the December report Who Gives and Who Gets: The Beneficiaries of Private Foundation Philanthropy, the top recipient of Canadian charitable donations was Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) at $89 million. 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 percent went to support indigenous organizations, and 0.1 percent went to racialized communities. This means that Technion, a single Israeli university, with its $89 million in donations, received twenty times that raised by all organizations dedicated to indigenous people and people of color.
Technion has substantial ties to the Israeli military. A pamphlet by New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership notes that “Technion has all but enlisted itself in the Israeli armed forces.” The institute takes part in various research and student initiatives with the IDF—for example, the remote-controlled bulldozer, developed by Technion, which the IDF uses to demolish Palestinian homes.
Some funds raised in Canada for Technion are specifically allocated to strengthening its ties to the Israeli military. In an April story titled “Helping Those Who Guard Israel,” Technion Canada reported that:
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 these 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 (known as “lone soldiers”) who join the IDF.
For the IDF high command — the HESEG board includes a handful of top military officials — “lone soldiers” aren’t just valued for their military prowess. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel reassure Israelis, weary of their country’s violent behavior, that there is a large international community supportive of its settler-colonial practices.
At the first HESEG Foundation grant awards ceremony in 2005, Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz stated that “encouraging and supporting young individuals from abroad” to become lone soldiers “directly supports the morale of the IDF.” After the IDF killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, HESEG delivered $160,000 in gifts to IDF soldiers who took part in the violence.
HESEG is not alone in its support of the Israeli military. In 2019, the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA) allocated over $1.7 million to Yahad: United for Israel’s Soldiers, which states, unambiguously, that its “aim is raising funds for IDF soldiers.” Until the formal complaint was instigated by Mouammar and Mivasair, an IDF website named CZCA as one of six international organizations “authorized to raise donations for the IDF.”
The Jewish National Fund of Canada has also 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 yet another charity that aids the IDF.
Registered charities are prohibited from supporting Israeli initiatives in West Bank settlements because Ottawa officially considers such support to be in 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.” At the time, Arthur Drache, an Ottawa tax lawyer and settlement defender, was dismissive of efforts to restrict charities operating in the West Bank. “There are,” Drache claimed, “hundreds of organizations . . . that are supporting organizations directly or indirectly beyond the Green Line [in the West Bank].”
Today, a number of registered charities are candid about their support for the colonization of the West Bank. Located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Canadian Friends of Ariel University is one such a registered charity. Another, Canadian Friends of Yeshivat Har Etzion, is located in the illegally occupied settlement of Alon Shvut. According to Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Wikipedia 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 rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who, in 1996, called on settlers to plant roadside bombs to stop Israeli soldiers from removing them 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.” The Judea and Samaria area is in the West Bank.
Although support for racism contravenes CRA rules, a number of Israel-focused charities are explicitly racist. According to a 2003 CRA directive, the organization is supposed to promote racial equality. More explicitly, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits 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. Exclusionary land use policies are the JNF’s raison d’être.
Registered charity Canadian Friends of Yad L’Achim is a leading campaigner against miscegenation. The 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.” In 2019, the director of Yad L’Achim’s special projects, Yossi Eliav, told the Jerusalem Post that “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.” 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 from 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, several Israel-focused charities have lost their charitable status. Two years ago, the 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. 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 the fact that its donations grew from a few thousand dollars in 2011 to $61 million in 2017.
In 2002, Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel lost its charitable status for providing ambulances to the IDF and supporting settlements and poor financial practices. In 1996, Toronto Zionist Council lost its charitable status for channeling money to West Bank settlements.
During a presentation to the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto in 2007, charity specialist Mark Blumberg pointed out that “three of four recent court cases dealing with Canadian charities operating abroad deal with Jewish/Israeli charities.” In 1991, the Ottawa Citizen estimated that more than $100 million a year was raised for Israel, and possibly as much as $200 million. If an average of $100 million a year has been raised by Israel-focused charities since the federal government established charity legislation in 1967, the grand total would amount to over $5 billion. With tax credits accounting for up to 40 percent of donations, taxpayers could well have covered $1.5 billion of that sum.
Groups such as Canadian Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, Canadian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and 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. Even so, it’s hard to rationalize Canadian taxpayers subsidizing initiatives in a wealthy, faraway state. How many Canadian charities funnel money to Denmark or Japan?
These charities also pose a question larger than the matter of Canadian taxpayers subsidizing a wealthy country. Israel regularly bombs its neighbors and practices what Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, many South African officials, and millions of Palestinians have labeled “apartheid.” If Ottawa ever adopted the demand for sanctions, as articulated by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), it could be illegal for Canadians to support Israeli groups.
People are starting to notice this dubious use of taxpayer dollars. The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Just Peace Advocates, and other groups’ campaigns targeting Canadian charities is similar to efforts being made elsewhere. In the United States, activists recently launched Defund Racism in order to target a half dozen Israel-focused charities. Seven congresspeople recently 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.