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Last week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an exposé on the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a Canadian charity which has been audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). According to a complaint filed in October 2017, JNF put donations toward building infrastructure for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), including projects on the army, air, and naval bases. These activities are a violation of Canada’s tax laws, which forbid charitable organizations from donating to projects aiming to increase the “effectiveness and efficiency” of foreign armies, Al Jazeera writes.
Members of the Canadian Jewish community condemned JNF’s actions. Rabbi David Mivasair, one of four complainants, is outraged that Canadians are subsidizing a charity which supports the Israeli army through tax-deductible donations, Al Jazeera reports. This is even more shocking considering allegations against the IDF. Rabbi Mivasair believes donations should not support an army which “…has killed nearly 200 unarmed protesters in Gaza this past year, including medical personnel, members of the media and children.” JNF is also well-known for its tree-planting efforts which their website states are “greening the land of Israel.” However, through in-depth research, Canadian professional mediator Megan McKenzie found that these reforestation projects entered occupied West Bank territory, crossing the 1949 armistice line (the “Green Line”), CBC writes. There are other reports that JNF Canada missions have built at least one outpost in the Westbank, and in 2014 were preparing to build a house for a security guard, CBC reports. Canada officially objects Israeli settling-building in the Westbank, which are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
These revelations highlight the importance of transparency in charities worldwide. On their website, JNF describes projects such as “planting trees, building water reservoirs…and building parks and bicycle trails,” with no mention of the West Bank or the IDF. Charity Intelligence, an NGO which rates Canadian charities based on transparency and efficiency of donation use, gave JNF a ‘zero’ as it is impossible to determine how donations are being spent, CBC reports. If the allegations are true, JNF is aiding and abetting a defence force which has contributed to the deaths of peaceful protesters, as well as illegal settlement construction in occupied territory- activities which donors certainly don’t intend their money to fund. Charitable organizations such as JNF also owe Canadian taxpayers who subsidize them complete honesty around how donations are being used.
These allegations have critics questioning whether JNF should maintain charitable status. Ismail Zayid, a retired physician, was born in a small Palestinian village left virtually empty after the 1967 Six Day War. His village of Beit Nuba later became part of Canada Park- JNF’s first big project in Israel and the West Bank. He has been protesting JNF’s charitable status to the CRA for 40 years, reports CBC. The CRA has taken no action against JNF until the recent audit, which hopefully concludes that JNF should be stripped of its legal ‘charity’ label. The CRA’s policy statement CSP-P13 writes “The courts have held that an organization is not charitable in law if its activities are contrary to public policy.” As the Canadian government has denounced Israeli settlements in occupied territory, JNF’s use of 15 million tax-deductible Canadian dollars for the construction of Canada Park would justify removing JNF’s ‘charity’ label. JNF’s illegal contributions to the IDF also must not be forgiven.
Canadian taxpayers and oblivious donors have supported the unethical and unlawful actions of this illegitimate charity for too long, and it’s time for the CRA to enforce stringent repercussions. JNF’s misconduct should serve as a warning to all charities that illegal and immoral activities will not be tolerated, and all spending should be accurately disclosed. This also serves as a reminder to government revenue departments worldwide to be vigilant with charities operating in their jurisdiction.