Canada charity used donations to fund Israeli army projects: CBC

Jewish charity is being audited for funding Israeli forces and illegal building in occupied West Bank, report details.

    Israeli Air Force cadets are seen during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim airbase in southern Israel [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]
    Israeli Air Force cadets are seen during a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim airbase in southern Israel [File: Amir Cohen/Reuters]

    The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has published an expose on a Jewish charity in Canada, which has been under investigation for using its donations to build infrastructure for the Israeli forces in violation of the country's tax rules.

    The Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Canada, one of the country's long-established charities, has been the subject of a Canada Revenue Agency audit after a complaint was filed in October 2017.

    The JNF funds numerous projects in Israel, such as reforestation efforts in areas hit by wildfires but it has also funded infrastructure projects on Israeli army, air and naval bases, the CBC, the country's public broadcaster, reported on Friday.

    Their activities are in violation of Canadian law which prohibits charitable funds from supporting a foreign army.

    CBC's article details many troubling aspects of the charity's projects which, along with funding infrastructure on Israeli military bases, it has also contributed directly to the construction of at least one hilltop settler outpost - illegal under international law, and considered illegal by Israel itself.

    The organisation, which disclosed to donors last year that it has been under audit by the Canada Revenue Agency, said it stopped funding those projects in 2016, according to the CBC.

    Funding Israeli military bases

    A complaint was submitted in October 2017 with the support of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), which presented detailed evidence that JNF Canada works in violation of the Income Tax Act and contravenes Canadian foreign policy in numerous ways.

    According to CRA guidelines, funding for projects intended to increase the "effectiveness and efficiency" of a foreign military cannot be considered charitable and therefore should not be tax-deductible.

    "It is unconscionable that Canadians are subsidising an organisation that has used tax-deductible donations to support the Israeli military, especially when that army has killed nearly 200 unarmed protesters in Gaza this past year, including medical personnel, members of the media and children," said Canadian Rabbi David Mivasair, one of four complainants.

    According to IJV, JNF Canada has funded well over a dozen projects to support the Israeli forces in the last few years alone, and has officially partnered with the Israeli forces and the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

    Its military projects include "the new planned [Irsaeli military] Training Base City in the Negev" desert and "helping the development of the Bat Galim (naval) training base complex area", according to the CBC.

    In 2014, JNF Edmonton held a Negev Gala dinner, where proceeds were to "develop three areas of the Negev's Tse'elim army base, the largest military training facility in Israel. The project will upgrade and landscape the family visiting area, intake and release facility and the barracks' main plaza. The base is the national centre for ground forces training," its Facebook page read.

    JNF Canada has also funded security roads along Israel's hostile borders with Lebanon and Gaza, which in the words of JNF Canada, are designed to "enhance military activity" in these border regions, IJV wrote.

    Building in the West Bank

    JNF Canada missions in Israel also have contributed directly to the construction of at least one illegal hilltop settler outpost, CBC reported. Givat Oz VeGaon received and ignored at least 18 demolition orders from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

    A JNF Canadian Young Leadership Solidarity Mission visited the site in August-September 2014 and worked with picks and shovels "to prepare the ground for building a residential unit to be used by the security guard".

    Fifteen million dollars of tax-deductible Canadian funds have also contributed towards building JNF Canada's flagship project, Canada Park, along with a new adjacent Israeli settlement.

    The park was built on militarily occupied territory, over the ruins of three Palestinian villages which Israeli forces depopulated and demolished in 1967 as well as the lands of a fourth, according to IJV.

    Low marks for transparency

    The organisation gets a mark of zero for financial transparency, according to Kate Bahen, head of Charity Intelligence, a Toronto-based NGO that produces a report rating Canadian charities on their transparency and efficiency in spending donors' money.

    Bahen said the charity has done the right thing by disclosing to donors that it's being audited, but it is "an utter black box" when it comes to providing a breakdown of how its money is spent.

    "Any Canadian donor who knows of JNF automatically thinks of planting trees. And there is a lot more to JNF than planting trees," Bahen told CBC.

    "We have absolutely no information on how much it's spent planting trees, how much goes for irrigation, or education, or how much is diverted to military bases. And that information, I think, is critical, and it's not provided to Canadian donors."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies