The tax-deductible Occupation

avigdor lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman

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”),  has provided financial assistance to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The group has recieved 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.

ed koch
Ed Koch

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.

About Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.
Posted in Activism, American Jewish Community, BDS, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Occupation, One state/Two states, Settlers/Colonists, US Politics

{ 17 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Rusty Pipes says:

    Regarding:

    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

    The Bush who withheld loan guarantees was Poppy (George H.W.), not Dubya (George W.).

  2. Citizen says:

    Just think, we average Amercan tax payers indirectly support all these charitable groups that fund the oppression with tax-deductible dollars over decades, oppression of an entire people, basically because they were born on a particular piece of land to non-Jewish mothers and hence, Zionists say they are not entitled to live on that land because God said so. How does this differ fundamentally from say, the beliefs of the Aztecs or Incas? Religion is truly a net curse.

    • john h says:

      because they were born on a particular piece of land to non-Jewish mothers and hence, Zionists say they are not entitled to live on that land because God said so. Religion is truly a net curse.

      The net curse is not religion as such, but how we humans use and misuse it and harness it to our own selfish agenda.

      Zionists say what they think God said. We know how suspect anything they think is when it affects them. As the trolls do here, they sail over what matters as if it doesn’t exist. Facts, meanings, consequences, mean nothing to them.

      Zionism has always had no time for religion unless to subvert it to fulfil its own ends. In their hands religion is indeed a net curse.

      To a Zionist, Zionism is moral and just, and there is no other morality.

      • Citizen says:

        Religion is nothing at all except as humans speak and act in its name. Wake up.

        • john h says:

          Religion is an expression of the spiritual part of our nature as humans.

          It is no more nothing at all than is emotion or logical thinking. With all of these we express who we are and how we see our world, unless, for whatever reason, we choose to shut any of them down.

          Whether any religion is factual or fictional, or some of each, is for each of us to determine. We may not personally be religious, but humanity is.

          Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.[1]

          Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

          link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Citizen says:

          Whatever. I repeat, the practical effect of religion is a net negative in human history. Human spirituality is not at all necessarily connected to the dogmatic religions, or any religion at all.

        • RoHa says:

          “We may not personally be religious, but humanity is.”

          That does not mean we should treat religion as something worthwhile.

          You could say the same about altruism and decency, and about violence and racism.

          “We may not personally be altruisitc/decent/violent/racist/grotesquely superstiious, but humanity is.”

          We know we want to encourage altruism and decency, and discourage violence, racism, and gross superstion.

          Why should religion be encouraged, valued, or even respected?

          “They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.”

          And in the case of the Abrahamic religions, at least, those ethics are inferior to those that emerge from humanism.

        • john h says:

          Citizen, the practical effect of religion seems to me to have many negatives and many positives that, taken overall, would appear to cancel each other out.

          Many lives have been blighted or lost, and many others nourished or protected. The positives and negatives are seen in individual lives. One man’s meat is another’s poison.

          Human spirituality exists, but I agree it is not necessarily expressed in a dogmatic religion or even any religion. But it will be shown, if not in religion then in a belief of some kind, including humanism.

        • john h says:

          Here’s one thing we can agree on, RoHa:

          We know we want to encourage altruism and decency, and discourage violence, racism, and gross superstition.

          What we don’t know is how to always agree on what those negatives and positives are in any given situation.

          Why should religion be encouraged, valued, or even respected?

          Only the last part of that question needs an answer. Some people believe religion should be encouraged and valued, and others don’t. Logic and reasoning will not change them any more than it will change a Zionist or an anti-Zionist.

          We come to conclusions that to us are valid. These are not only based on logic and facts, but on life experiences and the values we hold.

          Religion should be respected in the sense of recognizing it as a human attempt to find or give meaning to life, and that it can bring solace to religious people.

          No respect though for anything in it that we find that encourages violence, racism, or gross superstition.

          Other answers are given in this link to answers.yahoo.com

  3. marc b. says:

    i missed that. what is hagee’s view of hitler that koch disagrees with? and what would hagee have to do or say to before koch would denounce hagee?

    link to huffingtonpost.com

    apparently hagee, impersonating nostradamus, warning that the anti-christ will be ‘part gay, part jewish’, (“like hitler”) isn’t enough. or how about this?

    Journalist Sarah Posner noted in God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters (PoliPointPress, January 2008) that in his book, What Every Man Wants in a Woman (Charisma House, 2005), Hagee wrote, “Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist” (Page 14).

    nope. not enough.

    • Citizen says:

      So what do Hagee and Koch think of Hitler? Please tell us.

      • Hostage says:

        Hagee said that Hitler was fulfilling God’s will. That’s hardly an Earth shattering conclusion if you are a religious person who believes that there is a God who has predestined or foretold the future through the prophets. Former Chief Rabbi and spiritual leader of the Shas party, Ovadia Yosef, is infamous for making similar impolitic statements about Hurricane Katrina victims, & etc. Fundamentalist Jews and Christians don’t play well with others.

  4. RE: “I’ll let Ed Koch have the last word on this uncivil union…” ~ Mutter

    MY COMMENT: Laugh out loud (lol), big time!

    ALAN HERTZBERG, 09/02/11:

    (excerpt)…Here’s a hard question that’s popped up in my mind lately. Why do we all seem to be playing “Who’s the Better Jew” around town so much, particularly in the gay community? Don’t get me wrong, the supposed straights are playing it, too, what with Mayor Ed Koch sticking his nose into the Anthony Weiner runoff. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
    I first noticed Who’s the Better Jew when Michael Lucas started blogging about self-loathing Jews he sees on the other side of the Siegebusters debacle at the LGBT Community Center. I said it at the community forum the Center’s Glennda Testone called, and I’ll say it again: “I am not a self-loathing Jew; I’m a self-respecting Jew. And I’m not anti-Semitic, either; I’m pro-human rights.”…

    SOURCE – link to gaycitynews.com

  5. mikeo says:

    The only “religious” text I have ever read that actually made sense to me was Tao Te Ching.

  6. Chaos4700 says:

    It’s rather morbidly twisted. Not even the occupation of Iraq is tax-deductible… like Israel’s occupation of Palestine is, in the United States.