By Yves Engler
A request to revoke the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association’s charitable status is an important step towards lessening Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession. Registered Canadian charities provide significant support to Israel and drawing attention to the massive taxpayer subsidy undercuts the Israel lobby.
Today Palestinian-Canadian refugee Khaled Mouammar and Rabbi David Mivasair submitted a formal legal complaint to the Canada Revenue Agency concerning the charitable status of the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA). The complaint asks the CRA to investigate whether the CZCA’s operations comply with its regulations for registered charities and if not revoke the group’s charitable status. NDP Critic for National Revenue Matthew Green is echoing the call for the CRA to investigate the CZCA.
CRA rules state clearly that “supporting the armed forces of another country is not” charitable yet the Israel Defense Forces website explicitly named the CZCA as an organization “authorized to raise donations for the IDF”. (When Global News reporter Stewart Bell began asking CZCA questions about its ties to the IDF, the Israeli military quickly removed CZCA from its list of international organizations.) In 2019 the CZCA allocated over $1.7 million to YAHAD, which says its “aim is raising funds for IDF soldiers.” CZCA appears to act as a conduit for funds to the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada, which isn’t a registered charity.
CZCA is an egregious example of an organization defying CRA rules, but it is only one of many. In 2018 the HESEG Foundation, which was established “to recognize and honor the contribution of Lone Soldiers to Israel,” spent more than $9 million in Israel. Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel, the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel) have also supported the IDF. A slew of other charities have more indirect ties to the IDF such as Canadian friends of Technion, which is a university with many ties to the Israeli military, and TanenbaumCHAT, a Toronto high school that organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and holds regular “IDF days”.
Charities that support West Bank settlements also contravene CRA rules since Ottawa officially considers them a violation of international law. A number of registered charities support settlement projects directly or indirectly. Located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Canadian Friends of Ariel University is also a registered charity. So is Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, which says it “provides financial” support to “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria” (occupied West Bank).
Similarly, the CRA has a policy of promoting racial equality. Yet the JNF promotes explicitly racist land-use policies in Israel.
A thorough investigation into Israel-focused charities would likely uncover tens of millions of dollars of subsidized donations going to projects that contravene CRA guidelines. In 2018 registered charities raised more than a quarter-billion dollars for projects in Israel with taxpayers on the hook for as much as $100 million of that sum. By my calculation, about $5 billion has been raised for Israel-focused projects over the past half-century with taxpayers covering about $1.5 billion of the total.
This is an enormous subsidy that Palestine solidarity activists and progressive researchers must disrupt. Looking through the list of foreign-focused Canadian charities, Israel is the only country with dozens of organizations raising funds almost entirely for it. It’s also probably the single biggest recipient of subsidized private donations, receiving more than Kenya, Haiti, Afghanistan or 100 other poorer or more populous states.
Even if Israel wasn’t an apartheid state that regularly bombs its neighbors why should Canadian taxpayers subsidize the symphony, guide dog society, universities, etc. of a country with a GDP equivalent to Canada’s?
Drawing attention to subsidized charitable donations has an important political/ideological component. It puts the Israel lobby in an uncomfortable position since it is about Canadian law and can be framed as saving taxpayers money. The charities issue undercuts the lobby’s claim that Israel is being ‘singled out’ unfairly, demonstrating that they are in fact ‘singling Israel out’ on the taxpayers’ dime and sometimes in contravention of Canadian law.
There’s another political upside to challenging registered charities. Funds are often raised at public gatherings that function as pro-colonization or pro-IDF rallies. These events often include public figures sensitive to controversy. Challenging CZCA or other charities operations can drive away more perception-conscious individuals, which is probably what happened with Independent Jewish Voices complaint and campaign targeting the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status.
A significant share of the funds the CZCA raises come from an annual event they do with the Association for the Soldiers of Israel–Canada. A few months before the pandemic began, 1,000 people attended an event that “featured heartfelt and captivating speeches from IDF commanders, as well as a performance by the IDF Ensemble”, reported the Canadian Jewish News. Some public figures likely attended this Israeli military rally.
The CRA needs to investigate Mouammar and Mivasair’s complaint concerning CZCA. If it finds the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association is defying its regulations the group’s charitable status must be revoked.
– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit his website: yvesengler.com