Canadian Jewish group's charity status revoked: Report

A government audit finds Beth Oloth donations supported Israeli armed forces and illegal settlements, broadcaster says.

    The nonprofit funded educational programmes called mechinot that prepared high school students for Israeli military service, Global News reported [File: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]
    The nonprofit funded educational programmes called mechinot that prepared high school students for Israeli military service, Global News reported [File: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

    A Canadian Jewish organisation has been stripped of its charity status following a government audit which found it provided support to the Israeli armed forces, Canadian Global News has reported.

    The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) found that the Beth Oloth Charitable Organisation had been funding activities that aren't charitable under Canadian law, including "increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces", the Global News website reported.

    The Beth Oloth Charitable Organisation based in Toronto has been a registered charity since 1980 and was one of Canada's richest, with more than 60 million Canadian dollars ($45m) in revenues in 2017.

    According to documents obtained by Global News, federal regulators found many problems, including funding projects totalling 1.2 million Canadian dollars ($905,000) in the occupied Palestinian territories, which it said violated Canada's official policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    However, the portion listing the projects was blacked out by the CRA.

    According to the CRA Charities Directorate, the organisation hadn't issued tax receipts properly and lacked "direction and control" over the use of its funds.

    Activities included funding educational programmes known as mechinot that prepared high school students for Israeli military service, Global News reported.

    The programmes provide weapons training, physical and martial arts training, mentoring by Israeli forces officers and visits to army bases and sites of landmark battles, the CRA wrote.

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    The CRA released 94 pages of documents regarding the case on Friday following the announcement of the group's charity status revocation on January 12.

    Global News reported that Beth Oloth has received vast donations - 61 million Canadian dollars ($46m) in 2017, 45 million Canadian dollars ($34m) in 2016 and 42 million Canadian dollars ($32m) in 2015, of which almost all its money went abroad.

    The CRA said that Beth Oloth was acting as a "conduit" that issued tax receipts to donors in Canada in order to fund programmes of others.

    Beth Oloth said it only funded teachers to provide religious training at mechinot schools and claimed they provided "stipends to the poor for the observance of religious life" which doesn't interfere with Canada's policy in the region, according to documents seen by Global News.

    But the CRA rejected their explanation, the Canadian broadcaster reported.

    "Providing assistance to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories serves to encourage and enhance the permanency of the infrastructure and settlements and therefore is contrary to Canada's public policy and international law on this issue," the agency wrote.

    'Era of impunity ... coming to an end'

    Toronto charity lawyer Mark Blumberg told Global News that reading the details of the case was "shocking" and the government should be embarrassed the charity was allowed to operate for so long.

    "This is an example of the type of 'efficient' charity we don't need in Canada. It is efficient at giving out tax receipts but not effective in making sure that the 200 million Canadian dollars ($151m) of tax-subsidised dollars was spent appropriately," Blumberg said on Sunday.

    The lawyer called it an example of "very poor governance and compliance" and a wake-up call to donors. He said it highlighted the importance of rules governing charitable work abroad.

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    Earlier in January, Canadian broadcaster CBC reported that the charity Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Canada has likewise been under audit by the CRA for supporting Israel's armed forces and its illegal settlements.

    The JNF said it had stopped doing so since 2016 but it still remains a government registered charity.

    According to Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada, JNF Canada has been the subject of CRA-directed complaints for over four decades and has been violating Canadian tax law for over 50 years.

    IJV has been campaigning for the JNF to have its charitable status revoked as it supports the Israeli military and settlements, denies access to land for Palestinians and contributes to their displacement.

    Corey Balsam, IJV's national coordinator, said on Monday that the group is hopeful the "era of impunity for Canadian organisations that support the Israeli occupation is finally coming to an end".

    "It's about time the CRA cleaned house and applied its own rules to these organisations," Balsam said in a statement released on Monday.

    "Given the wealth of evidence against it and that it is already under audit, we expect JNF Canada to be next."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News