Israel’s far-right benefits from US funding despite terrorist classifications

On the website for the israeli band Chasdei Meir, a member of the staff stands out: “The Magician”. He is the only employee of the anti-miscegenation group with a photo that does not show his face. “He takes to the streets every day to find Jewish women who have relations with Arabs,” says his short biography. “He works his magic to bring the daughters of Israel back to their people.”

This is not a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. Chasdei Meir is one arm of a far-right movement whose burgeoning political party, Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, appears to have propelled Benjamin Netanyahu to victory in Israeli elections on Tuesday.

According to exit polls, Otzma Yehudit is poised to grab several seats in the Israeli parliament. Otzma Yehudit has formed an alliance with two other extremist political parties, HaZionut HaDatit and Noam, as part of a coalition to bolster Netanyahu. Should the coalition take control, as exit polls suggest, Netanyahu would give his leader Itamar Ben-Gvir a seat in his cabinet.

The party – and its leaders – are notoriously anti-Arab. On October 13, Ben-Gvir drew his gun in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem and told his followers: on camera, to shoot the Palestinians. For Ben-Gvir, provocations against Arabs have proven effective in bolstering his image as Israel’s most hardline extremist politician – and now a kingmaker in Israel’s parliament.

The Jewish supremacists who offered Netanyahu his victory are the ideological descendants of Meir Kahane, an American-born Zionist and founder of the Jewish Defense League, responsible for bombings on American soil, murders, and attacks on moderate Arabs and Jews in Israel. Organs of the Kahanist movement have been consistently designated as terrorist groups by the United States and continue to receive funding from a network of US-based allies.

For supporters of Israel in America, the rise of the Kahanists raise troubling political questions. as a nation investigation detailed in 2019, Chasdei Meir, Otzma Yehudit, and HaZionut HaDatit (also known as the National Union or Religious Zionist Party) are backed by a network of US tax-exempt nonprofits that fund Israeli extremists – many of which are based in New Jersey and next door to New York. At least one of Israel’s far-right groups receiving subsidized support from US tax breaks is designated as a terrorist organization by the US

However, many supporters of Israel in the United States oppose these groups, and some of them have made this known. At least one liberal Democrat on Capitol Hill who can be relied upon to side with Israel reportedly voiced concern directly to Netanyahu. Ahead of the election, Sen. Robert Menendez, DN.J., a Democrat and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reportedly released a stern warning to Netanyahu in a closed-door meeting: “The composition of such a coalition could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington, which has been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel.”

In his own backyard, meanwhile, Menendez has looked the other way, remaining silent on the network of tri-state organizations that fund the very groups he opposes. (Menendez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

The network of tax-exempt organizations in the United States funnels donations to Ben-Gvir and his supporters, supporting their efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians through violent attacks and illegal settlements. The groups are still registered with the IRS, and filings show that since The Nation’s survey of donations made in the early 2000s, many groups have continued to fundraise through 2020, the most recent year for which records are available. Federal lawmakers and regulators appear to have done little. The Intercept also uncovered a previously unreported nonprofit — Tomchei Tzedaka — linked to Israel’s far-right that has raised more than $15 million since 2017.

“It is unacceptable that the US government continues to subsidize funds that are used for illegal activities and to fund violent groups operating in Israel-Palestine,” Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World, told The Intercept. Now. “This is a problem that has been going on for decades. The fact that there are US taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit organizations that support organizations designated by the US government as terrorist groups shows that Israel continues to be exceptionally treated in Washington, DC”

Right-wing Israeli protesters gather with the flag of the far-right Jewish group Lehava and banners saying ‘Jerusalem is not Sodom’ in Hebrew, during a protest against the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade in Jerusalem on June 2, 2022.

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Just like a A tangled web of US-based support groups fund the Israeli far right, a complex and dizzying web of organizations inside Israel and the occupied territories is the recipient of these deals.

Among the main organs of the Kahanist right is Lehava, a 10,000-strong Jewish supremacist organization that has attacked police, carried out arson attacks on mixed Jewish-Arab schools and staged pogroms in Arab neighborhoods. Lehava shares his seat with Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, and Ben-Gvir, a lawyer, has represented members of the group on trial for crimes against Arabs. In addition to its political and militant wings, the movement has a religious arm: Yeshivat HaRa’ayon HaYehudi, or the Jewish Idea, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States because of its affiliation with Kahane’s ideology. .

Groups associated with Kahanism were removed from the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations this year, but remain classified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224, which allows the United States to block all financial support. Michael Ben-Ari, leader of both the Otzma Yehudit Party and Yeshivat HaRa’ayon HaYehudi, was refused entry in the United States in 2012 for his terrorist affiliations.

The name “Jewish Idea” is itself taken from the terrorist organization founded by Kahane in 1987. In addition to the yeshiva, a host of groups in Israel, the occupied territories and the United States use the name. One of these American groups, Friends of HaRaayon Hayehudi, is based in Skokie, Illinois. The group coordinates with its counterpart, the Charity of Light Fund, Inc., first registered in New Jersey in 2001. As recently as 2020, the two American organizations donated to Yeshivat HaRa’ ayon HaiYehudi in Israel, despite the terrorist lists.

Many senior figures in the network of Kahanist groups have a history of violence. Levi Chazan, director of Friends of HaRaayon Hayehudi and the Charity of Light Fund, was convicted of shooting nine Palestinians in Ramallah in 1984. Chazan also works with the Kahanist organization Chemla in Israel, which has several operatives in Otzma Yehudit of Ben-Gvir. part as employees. Among them is Ben-Zion Gopstein, who runs Lehava and was indicted in Israel on terrorism charges in 2019 for incitement to violence against the Arabs. Anti-miscegenation vigilante group Chasdei Meir, named after Meir Kahane, lists Chazan as a member. The organization says he runs a home to “save” Jewish women.

The American gift button on Lehava website redirects to Tomchei Tzedaka Corp., recorded in Lakewood, New Jersey. According to tax filings, Tomchei Tzedaka has raised more than $16 million in donations since 2017, with most funds going to undisclosed organizations in Israel. When reached for comment, a representative for Tomchei Tzedaka told The Intercept that he could not comment on Tomchei Tzedaka’s relationship with Lehava due to “rabbinical law”.

Despite funneling millions of dollars to Yeshivat HaRa’ayon HaYehudi and its affiliated groups in Israel, none of the US-based nonprofits or donors to these organizations have been singled out. federal oversight for his actions. The exception is the New York-based Central Fund of Israel, which was forced to stop his activities in support of Lehava and other extremist-aligned organizations in 2014 after an IRS investigation driven by research and advocacy of T’ruah, a Jewish human rights group.

Despite the well-documented history of violence swirling around the figures who fired Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office, one congressman, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., spoke out forcefully against Otzma Yehudit as he approached. elections. . “As #Israel heads to another election in November, I urge Israeli political leaders from all political backgrounds to ostracize extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir whose outrageous views run counter to the fundamental principles of Israel of a democratic and Jewish state.” Sherman tweeted. “These extremists are undermining the interests of #Israel and the US-Israel relationship, which I and my colleagues have worked to strengthen.”