A UK charity is acting as a conduit for donations to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it has been revealed, prompting calls for action from the Charity Commission.
UK Toremet receives donations on behalf of what it calls 'recipient agencies', organisations or charities in Israel and elsewhere, who donors wish to support.
Among the list of approved recipients are several groups operating in, or for the benefit of, Israeli settlements. These colonies are deemed illegal under international law, and are at the heart of a regime of discrimination and segregation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
One recipient is the Yeshiva High School for Environmental Studies at Susya, a settlement whose Palestinian 'neighbours' have suffered expulsions and dispossession (and may again). The school claims to be home to "some of the finest sons of religious Zionism in Israel."
Another recipient agency, Shavei Chevron, is a religious school built in the heart of Hebron in the Occupied West Bank. "Guarded like a fortress by army troops", according to The Times of Israel, it is "one of the reasons that the IDF decided to close off the route to Palestinian traffic of all sorts."
Under UK law, "a charity must not provide funding or support to an organisation that exposes beneficiaries to extremist views", even if "the charity's funding or support is applied for legitimate charitable activities." Extremism is defined as "vocal or active opposition" to values like "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs."
Other recipient agencies include the Efrat Development Foundation, established "for the benefit of the residents of Efrat", an Israeli settlement in the southern West Bank. Donations can also be made to the Gush Etzion Foundation, which supports some 20 settlements south of Jerusalem and works to maintain "maximum Jewish presence in the region."
All Israeli settlements established in the OPT are considered illegal under international law, a consensus position shared by the British government, the European Union, the United Nations, and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
In addition to being a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel's settlements policy is "inherently discriminatory", in the words of Amnesty International, and "perpetuates violations against Palestinians" such as "infringing their rights to adequate housing, water and livelihoods."
As Amnesty UK Campaign Manager Kristyan Benedict told me, "the presence and relentless expansion of settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population." He added that "the often violent take-over of more and more Palestinian land for illegal settlements amounts to a war crime."
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has stated that Israeli settlements in the OPT "are not only illegal under international law but are an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the whole population, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin."
Asked whether settlements should benefit from charitable donations, UK Toremet's CEO and founder Jonny Cline said that "the law on charity and the definition of charitable activity does concentrate upon the content rather than the geographical locus of activity." Since "education is education and welfare is welfare", he added, recipients take part in charitable activity "for all nationalities, religions and genders, anywhere."
Pressed further if philanthropic values are compatible with a regime of systematic discrimination of which settlements are a core component, Cline said UK Toremet merely facilitates "donors' wishes to support the provision of services in answer to human needs, wherever and for whomever they may be", in line with the definition of charitable according to UK law."
He added: "We try not to lose that thread, for to do so would be to put ourselves as the judge and jury, differentiating between blood and blood, tears and tears. Philanthropy and charity are human issues that are to be found on all sides of any human paradigm, sometimes this is complicated."
Recipient agency Shurat HaDin, meanwhile, uses courts around the world "to go on the legal offensive" against those it perceives to be "Israel's enemies." Its director has "privately admitted to taking direction from the Israeli government over which cases to pursue."
Asked to comment, Cline said the projects these organisations have asked to have supported through UK Toremet "are in the areas of media monitoring, legal research, education and human rights, all of which are charitable activity."
The aim of UK Toremet is "promoting the culture of philanthropy in the UK by facilitating the fulfilment of aims deemed charitable by British law, in the UK and abroad." The charity "facilitate[s] tax-efficient online donations to good causes around the world", making it "easier to gift money to charities outside the UK by facilitating a UK tax receipt and Gift Aid qualification."
Serving as "a conduit for charitable donations", UK Toremet announced last year that it had distributed over £1 million in its first three years of operation, and represents "over 250 carefully-vetted Recipient Agencies."
Asked about that vetting process, Cline explained that after a charity applies to be recognised, "including specifying the programmatic area for which donations will be used", UK Toremet consults "independent 3rd party sources" – citing Guidestar, the media, and charitable reporting documentation – before "a cause is accepted."
According to Cline, "there have been cases of charities refused support, and there have been cases of charities that have specified specific programming that will be supported by funds coming from UK Toremet." The charity's website states: "we will not limit your (legal) choices."
Cline, a self-described "social activist and entrepreneur", moved to Israel from Britain at the age of 18, and performed his military service in the Israeli army. He has worked as spokesperson for Ariel, a major West Bank settlement, and a former resident of Kiryat Netafim settlement.
Cline has also previously worked for the Shomron Regional Authority, which provides municipal services to some 30 settlements in the northern West Bank. There he managed projects for its then-head Benzi Lieberman, a man who told Jeffrey Goldberg in 2004 that "the Palestinians are Amalek."
While Cline has previously described himself as "an active member of the World Likud and the Likud Party English Division", in Israel's 2013 municipal elections Cline ran on Jewish Home's list for the Modi'in city council, narrowly missing out. Jewish Home, headed by Naftali Bennett, wants to annex most of the West Bank. Cline has confirmed that he is currently a Jewish Home member.
The role played by UK Toremet in facilitating donations to projects based in or for Israeli settlements raises a number of questions. For example, why can such organisations benefit from British taxpayers' money through the Gift Aid system, when the UK government views such settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace?
Asked for comment, The Charity Commission noted that "charities can make grants for charitable purposes to non-charitable bodies", as long as "the recipient non charitable organisations apply those funds for charitable purposes only." The spokesperson added: "When funding organisations based in the OPT, charities must ensure they comply with the law of England and Wales."
For Chris Doyle, Director of Caabu (Council for Arab-British Understanding), "serious questions need to be asked if any UK charity is channelling funding into projects in settlements in the West Bank." Since settlements are illegal under international law, Doyle added, "charities have a duty not to assist in the violation of such laws", and urged the Charity Commission to "take immediate action."
The British government already actively discourages UK citizens from pursuing "economic and financial activities in the settlements", based on the "legal and economic risks", as well as the "potential reputational implications" and "possible abuses of the rights of individuals."
For Amnesty UK's Kristyan Benedict, "charities, donors, individual consumers and governments need to ensure they are not complicit in discrimination, violence and illegality."
Campaigners for Palestinian rights are also dismayed. Sarah Colborne, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said "the question is, why is money from UK taxpayers – in the form of charitable donations – going to fund settlement activity?" Such donations, she insisted, "should be subject to proper scrutiny by the British government."