Extremist Israeli group takes root in US with fundraising offer

Extremist Israeli group takes root in US with fundraising offer

Commentary

JERUSALEM — An Israeli group that raises funds for Jewish extremists convicted of some of the country’s most notorious hate crimes is collecting tax-free donations from Americans, according to findings by The Associated Press and Israeli investigative platform Shomrim.

Records of the case suggest that Israel’s far-right is gaining a new foothold in the United States.

The amount of money raised through a US nonprofit organization is unknown, but AP and Shomrim have documented the trail of the money from New Jersey to jailed Israeli radicals who include the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and people convicted of deadly attacks on Palestinians.

This overseas fundraising arrangement has made it easier for the Israeli group, Shlom Asiraich, to raise money from Americans, who can make their contributions through the American nonprofit with a credit card and claim a deduction from taxes.

Many Israeli causes, from hospitals to universities to charities, raise money through American arms. But having the strategy adopted by a group that helps Jewish radicals raises legal and moral questions.

It also comes against the backdrop of a new far-right government in Israel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where ultranationalists and extremist lawmakers have gained unprecedented power.

According to Shlom Asiraich’s promotional pamphlets, his beneficiaries include Yigal Amir, who assassinated Rabin in 2005; Amiram Ben-Uliel, convicted of the 2015 murder of a Palestinian baby and his parents in an arson attack; and Yosef Chaim Ben David, convicted of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem in 2014. The group also helps an ultra-Orthodox extremist man who fatally stabbed a 16-year-old Israeli girl at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. . in 2015.

Shlom Asiraich, or “The Welfare of Your Prisoners,” has been raising money in Israel since at least 2018 and officially registered as a non-profit organization in 2020 by a group made up mostly of hardline Israeli settlers in the West Bank. At least five of the group’s seven founders have been questioned by Israeli authorities for crimes related to their activities against Palestinians. Some have been arrested and charged.

Recipients of their generosity have praised the group for getting through difficult times.

“You have no idea how much you help us,” wrote the family of Ben-Uliel, who is serving three life sentences, in a handwritten letter posted on the group’s Facebook page.

As a relatively new organization, Shlom Asiraich’s official filing with Israel’s non-profit registry provides little data and does not indicate how much money he has raised. But in its promotional brochures, recently broadcast on Israel’s Channel 13 news, the organization indicated that it has raised 150,000 shekels (about $43,000).

Israeli nonprofit organizations have long sought funding abroad, with the United States being a major source. According to figures released by Noga Zivan, a consultant to nonprofit organizations in Israel, between 2018 and 2020, American Jewish organizations alone donated $2 billion to Israel each year.

Israeli right-wing groups have long raised funds in the U.S. But Dvir Kariv, a former official in the Shin Bet department of Israel’s national security agency that deals with Jewish violence, said it’s unusual for Jews. extremists like those led by Shlom Asiraich. to do it

He said the group appears to have followed the lead of other far-right Israeli groups, notably Kach, a racist anti-Arab group that was once banned as a terrorist organization in the US but was, according to Kariv, adept at raising money. there decades ago. .

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a senior cabinet minister in Israel’s new far-right government, is a disciple of Kach founder Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was once barred from participating in Israeli politics.

It’s unclear when Shlom Asiraich began working with the New Jersey-based World of Tzedaka, a nonprofit that says it works “to enable any individual or organization to raise money for their specific cause.”

Donors in the US can go to Shlom Asiraich’s site and click on a link that takes them to a donation page hosted by World of Tzedaka. You can also donate directly from the World of Tzedaka site.

According to an instructional video on the World of Tzedaka site, fundraisers must list a rabbi as a reference and receive approval from a Lakewood religious committee. World of Tzedaka charges $28 a month and a 3% processing fee to transfer funds to an Israeli bank account, the site says.

World of Tzedaka supports other charities, most of them focused on helping Jewish families in need, according to its website.

Ellen Aprill, a tax and charitable expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said convicted felons and their families could be considered needy and qualify as an allowable charitable purpose.

While supporting someone convicted of acts of terrorism could be seen as encouraging criminal activity, that would need to be proven, he said.

Marcus Owens, a lawyer who ran the IRS’s nonprofit unit in the 1990s, took a tougher stance.

“The United States Department of Justice views assistance to the families of terrorists as a form of material support for terrorism,” he said.

To become an IRS-recognized tax-exempt group, an organization must operate exclusively for charitable, religious, or educational purposes.

Repeated attempts to contact Shlom Asiraich’s representatives were unsuccessful. A person who answered the group’s phone number hung up on an AP reporter. Moshe Orbach, whose address in the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar is listed as the group’s headquarters, refused to be interviewed through a lawyer.

A representative for Mundo de Tzedaká hung up when asked for comment.

The IRS declined to answer questions about the group, saying that “federal law prohibits the IRS from commenting.”

According to documents obtained by the AP, Shlom Asiraich was registered as a nonprofit organization with Israeli authorities by Chanamel Dorfman, a lawyer and one of the top advisers to Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new national security minister.

Dorfman is also listed as the group’s “attorney/legal counsel” on Guidestar, the official site of the nonprofit registry.

In a text message, Dorfman denied being the group’s legal counsel and did not respond to additional questions. Dorfman recently told the conservative newspaper Israel Hayom that he was simply acting as a lawyer and that “if he had known that this is what this organization does, he would not have registered it.”

In October, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Shlom Asiraich tweeted a photo of snacks he provided to Jewish suspects under house arrest and to families of Israelis convicted or accused of crimes against Palestinians. A note accompanying the wine and other goods provided by the nonprofit organization called the men “beloved heroes.”

“Stay strong and faithful to the people of Israel and to the holy Torah and do not stop being happy!” the note said.

This article was published in collaboration with Shomrim, The Center for Media and Democracy in Israel.

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