Israel’s Tax-Deductible Occupation

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

There are good NGOs and bad NGOs in Tel Aviv’s eyes. The new Likud-Yisrael Beitenu NGO funding legislation is aimed at the bad ones. Bad ones criticize the Occupation. Good ones help it along.

This bill will limit and tax foreign governments’ funding for Israeli NGOs, yet it is not a sweeping measure that will affect Israeli nonprofits’ funding from other sources (or from the Israeli government itself). It is targeted at left-wing organizations, particularly those that provided information for the Goldstone Commission — its supporters openly admit this. Israeli officials also do not want to create a wide-ranging law that could impact right-wing charitable organizations. Tel Aviv increasingly depends on these groups, and their U.S. donors, to help subsidize and, most importantly, legitimize the Occupation.

The primary players on the ground in the West Bank are those operating on foot and from their cars hurling rocks, tear gas, bullets and threats at one another every day. So U.S. money that subsidizes the settlements — including new immigrants — is a little less money that Tel Aviv has to expend (and it expends a lot). Although this money does not come from U.S. politicians, it does come from their constituents — many of whom are not shy about making their largess (and peace process preferences) known. These ties also aid pro-settlement Israeli politicians when they are stumping across America to drum up support for Tel Aviv’s decisions.

Americans for Peace Now argues, “private American money plays a relatively small role in the patterns of settlement construction; the real question is political.” This is absolutely true. But the mere fact that “private American money” is there is significant because it shows Tel Aviv and Jerusalem planners that they can count on the U.S. failing to do much about their construction projects due to domestic debate.

Settlements and pro-settlement charities rake in large sums from foreign donors though, especially in the U.S. According to the New York Times, “at least 40 American groups” have given “$200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.” The Guardian reports that the California-based Moskowitz Foundation has provided funding to the East Jerusalem-focused Ir David and Ateret Cohanim. Ir David (“City of David”) is ostensibly an archaeological organization, but told the Guardian “the goal of our organisation is to increase the presence of Jews in the neighbourhood as much as possible.” Ateret Cohanim has similar goals. Both groups have raised millions of dollars in the U.S. on their own through “Friends of Ir David Foundation” and “American Friends of Ateret Cohanim.” Critics of the Moskowitz Foundation claim it has disbursed over US$150 million to the settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem, since the 1980s.

Other pro-settlement organizations with U.S. ties include:

1. Hebron Fund: Registered in New York. It has given around US$1.5 million annually since 2004 to promote “social and educational well-being” in Hebron settlements. Its executive director, told donors at a 2009 gala: “There are real facts on the ground that are created by people helping the Hebron Fund and coming to our dinners.”

2. Central Fund of Israel: Registered in New York. It raised approximately US$12 million in 2007 alone. Mondoweiss has reported how some of this money funds settler militias through the groups Amitz and Magen Yehuda. The Central Fund for Israel has been criticized for this aid, as well as its association with an extremist Yitzhar yeshiva tied to the far-right group Women in Green.

3. Shuva Israel: Registered in Texas. It supports Jewish settlement in “the Hills of Samaria,” aka the part of the West Bank encompassed by the Shomron Regional Council. Yitzhar, Rechalim, Nofei Nechemia and Revava are among the settlements it has provided welfare services for. Its website also notes “Christian support has provided the assistance that has enabled Shuva Israel to provide for the daily needs of some 2,600 new immigrants to the Biblical Hills of Samaria.”

4. Christian Friends of Israeli Communities: Registered in Colorado, but also has offices in Israel and the EU. Founded in 1995 in protest against the Oslo Accords (which it claims run counter to “God’s plan for the Jewish nation”), it has provided financial assistance to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The group has received money from Pastor John Hagee’s operations (see 7.)

5. One Israel Fund: Registered in New York. It provides “essential security, emergency medical, social service and other forms of humanitarian aid to the over 320,000 men, women and children.” It is thought to raise and distribute around US$1 million annually to send over to settlements. Its website allows donors to gift money to other pro-settlement organizations, including the far-right group Im Tirutz.

6. SOS Israel: Reportedly receives an unspecified amount of funding from a U.S. group called Machanaim, also registered in New York. SOS Israel gained notoriety (and was investigated by the Israeli government) for offering cash rewards to soldiers who disobey settlement eviction orders. SOS Israel is opposed to “giving up any part of Eretz Yisroel.”

7. John Hagee Ministries (& Christians United for Israel): Registered in Texas. Evangelical Pastor John Hagee has been praised by both U.S. and Israeli officials for his unstinting support of Israel. The Christian Evangelical news network GOD TV reports that Hagee has raised US$58 million for charities in Israel. Im Tirtzu, the Gush Etzion Regional Council and the settlement of Ariel have all reportedly received funding from his network, among other venues. Hagee’s operations are perhaps the most high-profile ones on this shortlist, partly because as an Evangelical leader he possess political clout that has brought presidential hopefuls to break bread with him.

Legislation that would restrict private foreign donations would certainly gladden critics of the New Israel Fund (NIF), which has given money to Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights, and the Ford Foundation, which has given money to B’Tselem and Palestine Monitor. Both are well-financed, U.S.-based foundations — and both have been accused of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism by Israeli critics. But broad legislation that would apply to private overseas donations would significantly impact pro-Israel organizations such as World Zionist Organization, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, PEF Israel Endowment Funds (one of the largest U.S. philanthropic organizations that disburses grants to Israeli nonprofits, including some in the Occupied Territories), the Jewish National Fund (which also runs projects in the Occupied Territories) and perhaps even the American Israel Education Foundation that sends U.S. Congressional delegations to Israel.

Such legislation would almost certainly not survive a “freedom of speech” lawsuit brought before either country’s judiciary (that is, unless some judicial bills go the Israeli right’s way). Different methods would be required to limit the activities of the NIF and company. One such avenue of attack would be to classify these groups as material supporters of a foreign terrorist organization, a designation that some Members of Congress are trying to have applied to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Free Gaza Movement. The success of the NGO funding bill in Israel may embolden critics of privately-funded leftist organizations in both countries. After all, one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest Likud colleagues said that Senator Joe McCarthy was proven “right” in his defense of the NGO funding bill.

The Zionist narrative has significantly changed since the 1970s, and money is flowing to the facts on the grounds that resulted from these changes. It is not just a coincidence that the socially conservative religious revivals seen in Judaism and Christianity (and Islam) have all taken place from the 1970s on. Religion and politics mix a lot easier now. That narrative umbrella serves them well, since it brings together disparate groups in Israel, as well as the U.S., that reject compromise with the Palestinians. As the Economist notes, even though the Israeli right is far from united on everything, their bloc now makes up a “fast-growing” Knesset constituency and ~40% of the IDF officer corps. And no Democrat can, after the manufactured crisis in Obama-Israel relations, hope to pull a George W. Bush and withhold U.S. loan guarantees over the matter (I wonder, though, whose fault this might be in 2012).

Some may simply accept this as the price of supporting Israel: witness how the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has embraced the ultraconservative Michele Bachmann and John Hagee because of their unwavering support for Israel. Bachmann even told ZOA she would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital if elected.

I’ll let Ed Koch have the last word on this uncivil union:

Hagee’s followers have supported the State of Israel in many tangible ways. Evangelicals continue to visit Israel as tourists even during the most dangerous times, which is more than can be said for some Diaspora Jews.

It has become fashionable among liberals, including Jews, to ridicule and denounce Hagee and other fundamentalists. I do not. I appreciate their support of the State of Israel and thank them for their enormous contributions to the Jewish state.

This is not to say that I agree with Rev. Hagee’s view of Hitler or his other views. For example, I strongly disagree with Rev. Hagee’s statement that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for homosexual sin in New Orleans. I also deplore his reference to the Roman Catholic Church as “the great whore,” for which he has since apologized.

In this dangerous world, Christians and Jews must come together to fight our common enemies. I’ve been working for years to strengthen the Christian-Jewish alliance, and I intend to continue to do so.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.