A Canadian charity has been investigated for using its donations to fund infrastructure projects on Israeli army and naval bases.
The Jewish National Fund of Canada – an affiliate of parent organisation Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael or the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) – used its donations to fund infrastructure projects on Israeli army, air and naval bases, in contravention of Canadian law.
The revelation came as JNF Canada was subjected to an audit by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), a federal agency that administers tax laws for the Canadian government, after a Canadian researcher filed a complaint about the charity's spending. According to local news site CBC:
While no law bars a Canadian citizen from writing a cheque directly to Israel's Ministry of Defence, rules do ban tax-exempt charities from issuing tax receipts for such donations, and also ban donors from claiming tax deductions for them.
CBC further explains that: "In its guide for Canadian registered charities carrying out activities outside Canada, the CRA states plainly that 'increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada's armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not'."
Though JNF Canada claims it stopped funding such projects in 2016, CBC points out that this would not stop the Canada Revenue Agency from taking action against the charity for funding projects in contravention of these clearly-stated guidelines.
Prior to 2016, JNF Canada's contributions to projects associated with the Israeli military appear to have been expansive. One example indicates that JNF Canada provided funding for "a fitness area for the regular army staff at the Gadna base in Sde Boker," a kibbutz (agricultural community) south of Beer Sheba in southern Israel. The charity describes Israel's Gadna programme as "a special programme for young people in Israel that prepares them for their service in the [Israeli army]".
The charity also funded other military infrastructure projects, including: "helping the development of the Bat Galim training base complex area" at Israel's naval base in Haifa; upgrading the canteen for Israel's 124th Helicopter Squadron at Palmachim Air Force Base, north of Ashdod; and developing a canteen at Nevatim Air Force Base, east of Beer Sheba.
As CBC points out, JNF Canada has a long history of supporting controversial projects, in 1984 raising funds for Canada Park which is built on the ruins of several villages near Latrun, east of Ramle. The park sits beyond the 1949 Armistice Line – often known as the Green Line – and as such is considered occupied Palestinian territory, though Israel has since cut the park off from the rest of the West Bank with its Separation Wall. JNF Canada has nonetheless continued to fund the maintenance of the park.
International donations to the Israeli army were thrust into the spotlight in November when Hollywood celebrities raised $60 million at the Friends of the Israel Defence Forces (FIDF) annual gala. Held in Beverly Hills, California USA, the gala was attended by more than 1,200 supporters of Israel, including prominent actors and singers like Ashton Kutcher, Pharrell Williams, Gerard Butler and Katharine McPhee. An internet campaign was quickly launched to criticise the celebrities' involvement, starting the #HollywoodFundsTerror hashtag on Twitter.
Just a few weeks earlier, another FIDF gala held in New York raised $32 million for the Israeli army and was attended by key Israeli establishment figures, including Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon and Israel's Consul General in New York Dani Dayan. Two US-Jewish organisations – Or Lachayal, which works to strengthen the Jewish identity of the Israeli army, and Nefesh B'Nefesh, which promotes Jewish immigration to Israel – were among the biggest donors at the gala.