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Canada strips group of charity status for funding Israel army

A Canadian Jewish organisation has been stripped of its charity status for supporting the Israeli army. The discovery – which has come as a shock to many well-meaning donors – was made following a government audit of the Toronto based group whose revenue is in the region of tens of millions.

Federal regulators found that some of the activities of Beth Oloth Charitable Organisation were not charitable under Canadian law, such as “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces,” Canadian news agency Global News reported.

The pro-Israeli charity group, established in 1962, describes itself as “having reached out to thousands of newly-arrived immigrants and under-privileged Israeli girls – young victims of terror, sickness, turmoil, poverty and family strife.”

The group promotes its work saying: “the devoted staff at Beth Oloth receives these girls at the tender age of nine. The next ten years are marked with one continuous chain of love, warmth and nurturing, alongside a quality education.”

Beth Oloth’s charity work has now come under scrutiny after Canada’s Revenue Agency (CRA) discovered that it has been supporting “foreign armed forces”. Almost all the money raised by the pro-Israeli charity group went abroad. Beth Oloth was not only found to be aiding the Israeli military, it was also undermining Canada’s own foreign policy in the Israeli-Palestine conflict by funding projects in the occupied territories.

Investigation by the Canadian government discovered that the pro-Israeli charity group lacked “direction and control” over the use of its funds, and had funded non-charitable activity. Global News said that this included educational programs called “mechinot” that prepared high school students for Israeli military service.

The program is said to have provided weapons, physical and martial arts training, mentoring by Israel Defence Forces officers and visits to army bases and sites of historical battles.

The revocation was announced in the 12 January edition of the government’s Canada Gazette. Some 94 pages of evidence were released to expose the pro-Israeli group’s non charitable work. Beth Oloth has received vast donations in recent years – $61 million in 2017, $45 million in 2016 and $42 million in 2015 – but it’s not clear how much of that was spent on charity and how much went towards funding the Israeli army; programs for preparing kids for military training or towards projects in illegal settlements in occupied West Bank.

Beth Oloth responded to the allegations by insisting that its work involved providing “stipends to the poor for the observance of religious life” and that it had funded teachers to provide religious training at mechinot schools.” CRA refuted their claim saying: “Providing assistance to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories serves to encourage and enhance the permanency of the infrastructure and settlements and therefore is contrary to Canada’s public policy and international law on this issue.”

According to Canada’s tax agency, Beth Oloth’s revenue was relatively small; raising a mere $21,000 in 2008, a year before the Israeli military carried out one of the deadliest assault on the Palestinians in Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead”, killing 1,400 people. The pro-Israeli group enjoyed a rapid growth after that period but it’s not clear why its revenue went from mere thousands to over $60 million in such a short period of time.

Beth Oloth’s non-charitable activities have come as a shock. Jewish leaders accused the pro-Israeli group of abusing their generosity. “Well-meaning donors to Jewish community foundations may be surprised to learn that they have been funding illegal Israeli settlement activity,” said Rabbi David Mivasair of Hamilton, Ontario. “The CRA doing its job and removing Beth Oloth’s illegitimate charitable status strengthens our confidence that our generosity is not being abused.”

Beth Oloth isn’t the only pro-Israeli charity group whose work has raised the suspicion of the Canadian government. Audits carried out during the same week by the CRA found that the Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF), one of the country’s long-established charities, funded infrastructure projects for the Israeli army, air and naval bases.

Complaints are said to have been raised against JNF for years. The pro-Israeli charity claims to run reforestation efforts in areas hit by wildfires, but an 85 page document has been submitted listing the many ways in which it has been violating Canadian tax law for over 50 years.