Los Angeles Times

A U.S. link to aid for Israeli radicals

- BY URI BLAU AND TIA GOLDENBERG Blau writes for Shomrim and Goldenberg for the Associated Press. This article was published in partnershi­p with Shomrim, the Center for Media and Democracy in Israel.

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

The records in the case suggest that Israel’s far right is gaining a new foothold in the United States.

The amount of money raised through a U.S. nonprofit is not known. But the AP and Shomrim have documented the money trail from New Jersey to imprisoned Israeli radicals who include Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin and people convicted in deadly attacks on Palestinia­ns.

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

Many Israeli causes and groups, including hospitals, universiti­es and charities, raise money through U.S.based arms. But having the strategy adopted by a group assisting Jewish radicals raises legal and moral questions.

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

According to Shlom Asiraich’s promotiona­l pamphlets, its beneficiar­ies include Yigal Amir, who assassinat­ed Rabin in 1995; Amiram Ben-Uliel, convicted in the 2015 murder of a Palestinia­n baby and his parents in an arson attack; and Yosef Haim Ben-David, convicted of abducting and killing a 16-year-old Palestinia­n boy in Jerusalem in 2014. The group also assists an extremist ultra-Orthodox man who fatally stabbed a 16-year-old Israeli girl at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade in 2015.

Shlom Asiraich, or “The Well-Being of Your Prisoners,” has been raising money in Israel since at least 2018, and was officially registered as a nonprofit in 2020 by a group mostly consisting of Israelis from hard-line settlement­s 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 its largesse have hailed the group for coming through in difficult times.

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

Being a relatively new organizati­on, Shlom Asiraich provides little data in its official filing to Israel’s nonprofit registry and does not indicate how much money it has raised. But in its promotiona­l fliers, as reported recently by Israeli Channel 13 news, the organizati­on indicated that it has raised 150,000 shekels (about $43,000).

Israeli nonprofits have long sought funding abroad, with the U.S. a major source. Figures published by Noga Zivan, a consultant for nonprofits in Israel, indicate that between 2018 and 2020, Jewish American organizati­ons donated $2 billion to Israel annually.

Israeli right-wing groups have long raised funds in the U.S. But Dvir Kariv, a former official with Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, which deals with Jewish violence, said it was unusual for extremist Jews such as the ones who run Shlom Asiraich to do so.

He said the group appears to have taken a cue from other far-right Israeli groups, particular­ly Kach, an anti-Arab racist group that was once banned as a terrorist organizati­on in the U.S. but that Kariv said was 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’s founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was once barred from Israeli politics.

It is 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 U.S. can enter the Shlom Asiraich site and click on a link that takes them to a donation page hosted by World of Tzedaka.

According to the World of Tzedaka site, fundraiser­s must list a rabbi as a reference and receive approval from a Lakewood, N.J., religious committee. There is a monthly charge and a fee for transferri­ng funds to an Israeli bank account, the site says.

World of Tzedaka supports other charitable ventures, most of them focused on assisting Jewish families in distress, according to its website.

Ellen Aprill, an expert on tax and charities at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said convicted criminals and their families could be considered in need and qualify as a permissibl­e charitable purpose.

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

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

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

Repeated attempts to reach Shlom Asiraich were unsuccessf­ul.

 ?? Mahmoud Illean Associated Press ?? AN ISRAELI fundraisin­g group’s beneficiar­ies include convicted killer Yosef Haim Ben-David, center.
Mahmoud Illean Associated Press AN ISRAELI fundraisin­g group’s beneficiar­ies include convicted killer Yosef Haim Ben-David, center.

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