How your taxes prop up Is­raeli ex­trem­ism

Rad­i­cal char­i­ties spread a Jewish ter­ror­ist’s ideas, says Rabbi Jill Ja­cobs

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @rab­bi­jill­ja­cobs Jill Ja­cobs is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of T’ruah: The Rab­binic Call for Hu­man Rights.

When I heard late last sum­mer that my name ap­pears on a list of “sonei Yis­rael” (“haters of Is­rael”) banned from a Jerusalem youth hos­tel, I laughed. I love Is­rael and visit of­ten, but I haven’t stayed at a hos­tel in decades. Be­sides, I was in good com­pany: Other names on the list in­cluded for­mer U.S. am­bas­sadors Daniel Kurtzer and Daniel Shapiro, Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein (D-Calif.), and the en­tire staff of CNN.

But there is nothing funny about the youth hos­tel in ques­tion. Vis­i­tors to the Jerusalem Her­itage House say it openly pro­motes the ex­trem­ist teach­ings of Meir Ka­hane, the late U.S.-born rabbi who preached — and di­rected — ter­ror­ism against those he viewed as en­e­mies of Is­rael or the Jewish peo­ple, and who ad­vo­cated the forced ex­pul­sion of Pales­tini­ans from ter­ri­tory Is­rael con­trolled. Worse, U.S. donors en­joy tax de­duc­tions for their con­tri­bu­tions to the hos­tel. That means Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers are sub­si­diz­ing the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of hos­tel guests — pri­mar­ily young Amer­i­can back­pack­ers.

Ka­hane’s tac­tics have right­fully

been re­jected by the vast ma­jor­ity of Jews in Is­rael and else­where. In re­sponse to a ques­tioner who as­serted that killing any Pales­tinian should be viewed as self-de­fense, Haim David HaLevi, the for­mer Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, wrote, “I am en­tirely as­tounded by the fool­ish idea that we should see in this light a mil­lion and a half Arabs. . . just be­cause there are some. . . who do hurt us and come to kill us. Be­cause of this tiny mi­nor­ity would we de­cree death on a mil­lion and a half hu­man be­ings?”

But U.S.-based non­prof­its still send mil­lions of dol­lars a year in tax-de­ductible con­tri­bu­tions to or­ga­ni­za­tions that es­pouse Ka­hane’s ide­ol­ogy. The Her­itage House is sup­ported heav­ily by Jewish Her­itage Move­ment, a Staten Is­land-based tax-ex­empt or­ga­ni­za­tion. Two other or­ga­ni­za­tions also fund Ka­hanist groups: Amer­i­can Friends of Yeshi­vat HaRaayon HaYe­hudi (the “Jewish idea” yeshiva), an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion founded by Ka­hane that fea­tures his videos and writ­ings in its teach­ings; and the Cen­tral Fund of Is­rael, which says it sends do­na­tions from the United States to 300 dif­fer­ent char­i­ties in Is­rael. Some of those or­ga­ni­za­tions, though, are led by Ka­hane pro­teges com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing out his legacy. These in­clude Ho­nenu, which de­scribes it­self as “an Is­raeli Zion­ist le­gal aid or­ga­ni­za­tion” for peo­ple who “find them­selves in le­gal en­tan­gle­ments due to de­fend­ing them­selves against Arab ag­gres­sion, or due to their love for Is­rael,” but which Is­raeli news or­ga­ni­za­tions have re­ported also has made cash pay­ments to Is­raelis con­victed of ter­ror­ism and to their fam­i­lies; and Hemla, which has is­sued pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als say­ing it aims to “save” Jewish women who are “at risk of ” forced con­ver­sion from in­ter­mar­ry­ing with Pales­tini­ans.

So last year, T’ruah — the rab­bini­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion I lead — sub­mit­ted a com­plaint to the IRS re­gard­ing Jewish Her­itage Move­ment over its fundrais­ing for the Her­itage House. We also filed a com­plaint about the tax-ex­empt sta­tus of the Cen­tral Fund and Amer­i­can Friends of Yeshi­vat HaRaayon HaYe­hudi. The U.S. fundrais­ing ve­hi­cles named in our com­plaint send be­tween $20 mil­lion and $23 mil­lion per year to far-right or­ga­ni­za­tions in Is­rael, in­clud­ing many that di­rectly iden­tify with Ka­hane. All of us who pay taxes sub­si­dize these grants. In late De­cem­ber, the IRS ac­knowl­edged re­ceipt of our com­plaint, though by law, the agency can­not dis­close whether an investigation has be­gun.

Con­tacted by The Wash­ing­ton Post, each of these or­ga­ni­za­tions said that the IRS com­plaints were with­out merit and that they don’t vi­o­late laws in the United States or Is­rael. “I can­not em­pha­size enough how in­cred­i­bly ridicu­lous and disin­gen­u­ous these ab­surd accu- are,” said Ben Packer, di­rec­tor and “supreme com­man­der” of the Jerusalem Her­itage House. “We are a Jewish out­reach or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing with a wide cross sec­tion of Jewish youth to­ward a strength­en­ing of their Jewish iden­tity, sim­i­lar to many other Jewish out­reach or­ga­ni­za­tions.” A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Yeshi­vat HaRaayon HaYe­hudi, Levi Chazen, said that “like all other yeshivot, our fo­cus is on education and study­ing the text of our fore­fa­thers,” and that “some 20 years ago, af­ter the mur­der of Rabbi Ka­hane, the IRS and the FBI in­ves­ti­gated the Amer­i­can Friends ac­count and found that we have no links what­so­ever to any il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.” Jay Mar­cus, of the Cen­tral Fund of Is­rael, said that his group is “prob­a­bly one of the best char­i­ties in the world, and there’s re­ally nothing to talk about” and that “we don’t give to any place that’s con­nected to Meier Ka­hane at all.” Packer sug­gested that fil­ing the IRS com­plaint was “reck­less” and could lead to “se­ri­ous le­gal ram­i­fi­ca­tions.”

No Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion or leader should be­stow any honor on Ka­hane, who was con­victed of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism in the United States 47 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, Ka­hane and his fol­low­ers in the Jewish De­fense League were tied to bomb­ings of Pales­tinian, Egyp­tian and Soviet diplo­matic and cul­tural tar­gets, as well as plots to kid­nap Soviet diplo­mats and to bomb the Iraqi Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton. In 1972, a JDL bomb­ing in New York killed a 27-year-old Jewish woman, Iris Kones. In 1988, Is­rael barred Ka­hane’s party from Knes­set elec­tions be­cause of his racist and anti-demo­cratic ide­ol­ogy, though the party has pe­ti­tioned — so far un­suc­cess­fully — to be le­gal­ized again for this year’s elec­tions.

Ka­hane was as­sas­si­nated in 1990 by an Egyp­tian-born U.S. cit­i­zen later con­victed of plan­ning a fol­low-up to the 1993 World Trade Cen­ter bomb­ing. Four years af­ter Ka­hane’s killing, Is­rael out­lawed Kach, the po­lit­i­cal party he es­tab­lished, as well as Ka­hane Chai, an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded af­ter his death. The State De­part­ment de­clared both to be for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions in 1997.

Nat­u­rally, then, some young back­pack­ers stay­ing at the Jerusalem Her­itage House have been sur­prised to dis­cover por­traits of Ka­hane dis­played there and to be of­fered lit­er­a­ture by and about him. Packer, the hos­tel’s di­rec­tor, reg­u­larly posts tributes to Ka­hane on his Face­book page. In one, Packer con­cludes with a He­brew ab­bre­vi­a­tion mean­ing “May God avenge his blood,” of­ten in­voked as a call for vig­i­lan­tism.

The other groups named in our com­plaint have di­rect ties to Ka­hane. Yeshi­vat HaRaayon HaYe­hudi, founded by Ka­hane, de­fines its mis­sion as “pro­duc­ing stu­dents in the mold of ‘King David’, who rose by night to study To­rah and write Psalms, and then by day to lead his peo­ple in bat­tle against the en­e­mies of the Jewish na­tion.” The web­site fea­tures footage of Ka­hane’s speeches, along with a tribute video ex­tolling his right­eous­ness and declar­ing that “never will there be a bet­ter man.”

Sev­eral Ka­hane dis­ci­ples teach at the yeshiva. They in­clude Michael Ben-Ari, a for­mer mem­ber of the Kach party who was de­nied a U.S. visa in 2012 based on the State De­part­ment’s “pre­rog­a­tive to ban ter­ror­ists from en­ter­ing the coun­try,” as the Is­raeli news or­ga­ni­za­tion Haaretz wrote; Ben-Zion “Bentzi” Gop­stein, a stu­dent of Ka­hane who has been ar­rested mul­ti­ple times in Is­rael for in­cite­ment and ter­ror­ism, though he’s never been con­victed; and Ka­hane’s son Baruch Ka­hane, an ac­tivist with the Tem­ple In­sti­tute, which seeks to build the Third Tem­ple in Jerusalem — an act that would re­quire tear­ing down the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Is­lam’s holi­est sites.

Ac­cord­ing to Haaretz, one of the Cen­tral Fund’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries, Hemla, also has con­nec­tions to Le­hava, a group led by Gop­stein. The group’s name is both a He­brew word for “flame” and an acro­nym for “prevent­ing as­sim­sa­tions ila­tion in the Holy Land.” The group is best known for vi­o­lence against Pales­tini­ans and mem­bers of the Is­raeli left, in­tim­i­dat­ing Jews who hire or rent to Pales­tini­ans or other nonJews and at­tempt­ing to break up in­ter­mar­riages or gath­er­ings that bring together Jews and Pales­tini­ans. In 2015, then-De­fense Min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon made a failed at­tempt to out­law Le­hava as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In re­sponse to an ear­lier tip from T’ruah, in 2016, the IRS in­ves­ti­gated the Cen­tral Fund of Is­rael, the largest group in our re­cent com­plaint, for its fund­ing of Ho­nenu. Re­cip­i­ents of Ho­nenu’s pay­ments have in­cluded the wives of Ami Pop­per, who mur­dered seven Pales­tini­ans in 1990, and of Yi­gal Amir, who as­sas­si­nated Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin. Haaretz re­ported that the IRS tem­po­rar­ily re­stricted the Cen­tral Fund from mak­ing grants to Ho­nenu in 2016. But those grants have re­sumed: Ho­nenu’s web­sites in the United States and Is­rael di­rect Amer­i­can donors to send checks to the Cen­tral Fund. The U.S. web­site notes that con­tri­bu­tions through the Cen­tral Fund “are al­lo­cated to pro­vid­ing le­gal de­fense only & not for other pur­poses,” but the Is­raeli page has no such lan­guage. (Mar­cus told The Post that “we cer­tainly do give to Ho­nenu” and that the group is “like the ACLU — they’re a le­gal aid fund, and they help peo­ple who don’t have lawyers who need lawyers. I pre­sume if we do give to them that they have nothing to do with Meir Ka­hane.”)

Sec­tion 501(p) of the U.S. tax code as­serts that “an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s tax ex­empt sta­tus will be sus­pended upon proof that it is en­gaged in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties.” The IRS takes its def­i­ni­tion of “ter­ror­ist” from the Im­mi­gra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act, which lays out a wide scope of vi­o­lent ac­tiv­i­ties that con­sti­tute ter­ror­ism and in­cludes in­di­rect sup­port for ter­ror­ism — such as pro­vid­ing ma­te­rial sup­port, so­lic­it­ing oth­ers to take part in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties or rais­ing money for ter­ror­ist groups. Sig­nif­i­cantly, this def­i­ni­tion re­lates to any group that en­gages in ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, whether or not the State De­part­ment has of­fi­cially des­ig­nated it as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The State De­part­ment has al­ready de­clared Kach and Ka­hane Chai to be for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. Groups like Le­hava, Her­itage House and Ho­nenu — run by much of the same lead­er­ship and with the same rhetoric and tac­tics — should fall into the same cat­e­gory. Which means the IRS should strip U.S.-based or­ga­ni­za­tions rais­ing money for these groups of their tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

Those of us who sup­port Is­rael of­ten com­plain about the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s pay­ments to fam­i­lies of ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing some who have car­ried out hor­rific and fa­tal at­tacks on Is­raeli ci­ti­zens. We must speak just as loudly against the fund­ing of ter­ror­ism and in­cite­ment by Is­raeli ex­trem­ists, es­pe­cially when Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers fi­nance these ac­tiv­i­ties through sub­si­dies of tax-ex­empt or­ga­ni­za­tions.


ABOVE: Rabbi Meir Ka­hane in a Man­hat­tan courthouse in Jan­uary 1971, af­ter his ar­rest in con­nec­tion with a protest out­side the Soviet mis­sion to the United Na­tions. BE­LOW: Ka­hane is taken into cus­tody at the Soviet Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton in June 1971 af­ter protest­ing the treat­ment of Soviet Jews.

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