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Canadian government auditing Jewish National Fund over ties to Israeli military

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Last week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), under pressure from Palestine solidarity activists, began an audit of the Jewish National Fund.

The audit is significant. Beyond weakening the oldest Israel-focused charity in the country, it will put other Israeli charities in Canada on notice and reflects the growth of Palestine solidarity activism.

Fulfilling the time-consuming audit will be a bureaucratic headache for a group that has eleven offices across Canada and has raised $100 million over the past five years. Already, the credibility of the second most powerful Israel-oriented charity in Canada has taken a hit with the CBC exposé headlined “Canadian charity  used donations to fund projects linked to Israeli military” and related  stories. If the CRA revokes the JNF’s charitable status it would be devastating for fundraising and deter politicians/celebrities from attending their events.

Similar to the JNF, other registered charities support the Israeli military in direct contravention of CRA rules. Additionally, some of these organizations — like the JNF — fund projects supporting West Bank settlements, which Global Affairs Canada considers in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

At a broader level, critical attention on the JNF could lead to questioning of why Canadian taxpayers subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to a wealthy country. Despite a GDP per capita greater than Spain or Italy (and equal to Japan), hundreds of registered Canadian charities deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Israel. How many Canadian charities funnel money to Spain or Japan?

If the CRA revoked JNF’s charitable status it would boost Stop the JNF campaigns elsewhere. In England they convinced former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw as patron of the JNF (Theresa May seems to have also stayed away), and 68 members of parliament endorsed a bill to revoke the organization’s charitable status because “the JNF’s constitution is explicitly discriminatory by stating that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews.”

The CRA audit of a charity that’s found favour with numerous Canadian prime ministers is long in the making and reflects the growth of Palestinian solidarity consciousness. Born in a West Bank village demolished to make way for the JNF’s Canada Park, Ismail Zayid has been complaining to the CRA about its charitable status for 40 years. Lebanese Canadian Ron Saba “has been indefatigable over the years in writing to various Canadian government departments and officials, corporations, and media to rescind tax exemption status and endorsement of” what he calls the “racist JNF tax fraud”. During the Liberal party convention in 2006 Saba was widely smeared for drawing attention to leadership candidate Bob Rae’s ties to the JNF. Saba has put in multiple Access to Information requests regarding the JNF, demonstrating government spying of its critics and long-standing knowledge of the organization’s dubious practices. Under the headline “Event you may want to monitor,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Caitlin Workman sent the CRA a communication about a 2011 Independent Jewish Voices event in Ottawa stating: “author of the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Yves Engler, will give a talk on Canada and the Jewish National Fund.”

Former Independent Jewish Voices coordinator Tyler Levitan was smeared for working diligently on the issue. In addition to important organizing, he discovered that the Ottawa Citizen sponsored JNF galas they covered and, suggesting a formal financial relationship, ran an ad for the JNF’s 2013 Ottawa Gala the day after the event.

At the Green Party convention in 2016 Corey Levine pushed a resolution to revoke the JNF’s charitable status because it practices “institutional  discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel.” The effort brought the issue into the mainstream though she, IJV and the entire Green  Party were smeared  as “hard core  Jew haters” for even considering the resolution.

Fifteen months ago IJV and four individuals filed a detailed complaint to the CRA and Minister of National Revenue over the JNF. For a number of years IJV has run a “Stop the JNF” campaign and for more than a decade activists across the country have picketed local JNF fundraising galas. These efforts have benefited from many in Palestine/Israel, notably the work of Uri Davies and Adalah.

As I have written before, the campaign to revoke the JNF’s charitable status is important beyond winning the specific demand. It draws attention to the racism intrinsic to Zionism and highlights Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession.

The CRA is undoubtedly facing significant behind-the-scenes pressure to let the JNF off with little more than a slap on the wrists. So, it’s important that people send their MP  the CBC exposé and add their name to Independent Jewish Voices’ campaign  to revoke the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status.

Yves Engler

Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. He’s also the author of Canada and Israel: building apartheid.

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3 Responses

  1. gamal on January 10, 2019, 5:49 pm

    “a West Bank village demolished to make way for the JNF’s Canada Park”

    one of the 3 was Emwas called Emmaus in Luke I think, Jesus walking to Emwas or something.

    Yalu and Beit Nuba the others,

    “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” Luke .24.18

  2. Citizen on January 10, 2019, 6:39 pm

    Since the situation is very similar in America, I notice the US mainstream new is giving it a lot of attention in their fulfillment as the well recognized” 4th Estate” or de facto branch of government bringing informed consent to the masses.

  3. Misterioso on January 11, 2019, 9:52 am

    For the record:
    The Jewish National Fund (JNF) “holds 13 per cent of the land in Israel, and it is reserved by law for exclusive benefit and use by Jews worldwide.” (Indigenous Palestinian Christians and Muslims are forbidden by the JNF covenant from leasing these lands.) To quote Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, “the JNF also acts as the ‘custodian’ responsible for guarding the ‘Jewishness’ of other lands in Israel that it doesn’t own. It does this by playing an influential role in the directorship of the Israel Lands Authority, a state body that manages another 80 per cent of the lands in Israel. Together, these two interlocking institutions control almost all of the land in Israel, which — with a few short-lease exceptions — is not available to Palestinian citizens of the country….” In 1998, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reported that the “large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties by non-Jews. Thus, these practices constitute a breach of Israel’s obligations [under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’].” (Michael Lynk, Rebecca Coulter, David Heap and Randa Farah, “JNF Award Incompatible with Diversity & Tolerance,” CAUT [Canadian Association of University Teachers’] Bulletin, March 2008)

    Re “Canada Park”:
    Before dawn on June 6, one day after Israel launched the 1967 war,“Three villages in the fertile Latrun Valley [under Jordanian administration in accordance with the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel] that had defied capture in 1948…were totally razed by Israeli bulldozers, their residents scattered without concern for their future. Beit Nuba, Imwas [the latter believed by Christians to be where Jesus first appeared after his resurrection] and Yalu lay just across the frontier on the West Bank, about fifteen miles northwest of Jerusalem, and obstructed a direct route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The [10,000 or more] residents had been ordered out…without explanation, given no chance to rescue their possessions except for what they could carry, left to wander without shelter or food or water.” They were never permitted to return. (Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East in 1967, Amana Books Brattleboro, Vermont, 1988, p. 290)

    Even though the inhabitants put up no resistance, the three villages were demolished on the direct orders of Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of Staff of the Israeli army. Several of the villages’ elders who were unable to walk without assistance were killed by falling rubble as Israel’s bulldozers demolished their homes.

    What transpired when Israel attacked, seized, ethnically cleansed and demolished the three villages is well documented in “Memory of the Cactus,” a 2008 documentary film directed by Hanna Musleh and produced by the Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq. Dr. Ismail Zayid, now a Canadian and a highly respected and tireless advocate for his fellow Palestinians, was born in Beit Nuba. CBC Television’s Fifth Estate produced a documentary on Canada Park featuring Dr. Zayid.

    To Canada’s everlasting shame, the land on which Beit Nuba, Imwas and Yalu once stood is now, thanks to tax-deductible donations to the Canadian chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), known as “Canada Park,” a recreational area where Israeli Jews frolic and picnic and their government plants trees in the name of Canadians who have provided Israel with financial or other support.

    By permitting Israel to convert these occupied lands into “Canada Park” and allowing contributions to the Jewish National Fund to have tax-deductible status, Canada is complicit in a war crime as defined by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

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