Even Netanyahu calls them "terrorists": How the U.S. aids Israelis convicted of violent crimes against Palestinians

Organizations supporting violent Israeli extremists get U.S. tax write-off. Here's how they operate

Published September 1, 2015 9:57AM (EDT)

  (AP/Oded Balilty)
(AP/Oded Balilty)

A complaint filed last week with the New York state attorney general by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights is casting light on the fact that an Israeli organization called Honenu has been getting a U.S. tax write-off. There is nothing alarming or unusual about that fact alone. What is of grave concern is that Honenu’s sole purpose is to defend and offer material support to Israelis accused and convicted of violent crimes against Palestinians, including murder. Also named in the complaint is the Manhattan-based Central Fund of Israel (CFI), also a registered charitable organization in the U.S., which for at least a decade and a half has funded a virtual who’s who of racist, violent Israeli extremists, including Honenu and its clients.

Following the murder by arson of the Palestinian infant Ali Saad Dawabsha and his father by suspected Jewish extremists this July, Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet were quick to condemn the attack. Netanyahu declared it to be “an act of terrorism in every respect” and announced that he had put Israel’s police and armed forces to work, declaring (despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary): “The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are.”

In fact, the state’s condemnation of such violent actions on the part of settlers is compromised by its uninterrupted settlement building and its persistent arguments for illegal annexations of Palestinian homes and land. These both foster the settler mentalities that inform these acts of violence and are perfectly consistent with the behavior we expect from the Netanyahu government. In many regards the settler-vigilantes simply are a convenient scapegoat; they are actually doing the dirty work of the government in an open and brutal manner.

In this regard, it is most relevant and telling that the Israeli government has left the door open for such acts of settler violence by essentially granting the perpetrators of such violence immunity for their crimes:

The response of Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem to the Duma arson was unequivocal regarding who is to blame: “[This event] was only a matter of time. It is due to the authorities’ policy of not enforcing the law against Israelis who attack Palestinians and their property.” Such immunity only encourages settler violence, the statement continues, before warning that another incident of this nature is on the horizon.

What should be of particular concern to us in the United States is how an Israeli group has been raising funds here in the U.S. to continue this immunity and fuel extremism, and getting a U.S. tax write-off for it. In an article that asks the question, “Is U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing Jewish terrorism against Arabs?,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports on a “recent expose by Israel’s Channel 10 about the work of the 13-year-old Israeli nonprofit Honenu, which provides financial support to Jews convicted of or on trial for violence against Palestinians, including so-called price tag attacks in the West Bank.”:

Since 2003, Honenu has operated a New York-based U.S. fundraising arm. In 2010, the last year for which data is listed, the tax-exempt organization has raised $233,700 in the United States, according to tax filings.

Critics say Honenu’s activities are no different from those of Palestinian groups that provide material support to Palestinian terrorists.

“Honenu is doing exactly what Hamas and the PLO have been criticized for — providing personal support, if not incentives, for those who commit terrorist acts against others,” says the complaint sent Monday by T’ruah, The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights, to the charities bureau of New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The article notes that “Much of [Honenu’s funding] is used for the defense of Jews on trial for activities such as violence against Arabs and refusing orders to vacate illegal Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank. The group helps approximately 1,000 individuals under arrest per year, according to the Honenu website.” In July 2014 the U.S. public interest journalism group Pro Publica featured a story about Honenu in an article titled “U.S. Taxpayers Are Subsidizing Defense of Alleged Killers of Palestinian Teen”:

The group says it … provides "spiritual" and "financial" assistance to prisoners and their families. Among those Honenu has helped: Yigal Amir, assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; an Israeli convicted of murdering seven Palestinians at a bus stop; and an Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice after shooting a British photographer in Gaza.

So how does Honenu portray itself? Its website states that:

Honenu is an Israeli Zionist legal aid organization which offers legal assistance to our people to protect and preserve their rights to receive a fair judicial process ... Soldiers and civilians who find themselves in legal entanglements due to defending themselves against Arab aggression, or due to their love for Israel, have an organization that will come to their aid 24 hours a day.

The website also explains:

If an individual is either found guilty of a crime or incarcerated, Honenu facilitates an appeal and offers the individual and his or her family financial assistance within the limits available to the organization.

Interestingly, in its publicly available 990 U.S. tax forms, Honenu claims under "Organization's Primary Exempt Purpose," that its mission is "To promote the study of Torah by making grants to organizations that promote it," making no mention of what it actually does.

So it’s important to understand what, exactly, Honenu is doing, and how.

First, we should peel back the language of “soldiers and civilians” and see that this means the Israeli military and vigilantes, including settlers living on occupied Palestinian land in violation of both international law and official U.S. policy, that “legal entanglements” refers to accusations of committing violent acts, including murder, and that “Arab aggression” can simply mean Palestinians holding onto their legal homes and land, and even sleeping in their own beds, and lastly that “love for Israel” can and does include illegally dispossessing Palestinians.

Honenu’s statements, and more important, its actions, seem to indicate its approval, even encouragement, of such violence. The JTA article goes on to note that:

About one-quarter of the money went to lawyers defending individuals on trial for actions against Arabs or for activities in the West Bank, and about $50,000 went directly to Jewish prisoners, according to the documents. The money included about $14,000 for the families of two men who planned the bombing of the Arab girls school in Jerusalem, and some $1,600 to Ami Popper, who murdered seven Palestinians in 1990. Zvi Strock, who received a 2 1/2-year sentence for kidnapping and abusing a Palestinian boy, also received a payout. Strock’s mother, Orit Strock, was a member of Knesset with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party from 2013 to 2015.

As Natasha Roth, writing for the Israeli journal +972 notes:

It must be said that working to safeguard suspects’, criminals’ and even terrorists’ civil rights should not, in of itself, be condemned. Upholding the rule of law includes ensuring a fair judicial process for all, no matter how reprehensible the crimes involved are. +972 has previously reported on and denounced Israeli authorities for violating the rights of terrorism suspects, Jewish and Palestinian alike.

Nonetheless, there is massive difference between defending a criminal or terrorist’s rights and endorsing their crimes. The language used throughout Honenu’s website is inescapably supportive of the actions of Jewish terrorists — to call them “noble citizens” simply glorifies them and indirectly condones their actions. In the case of Abu Khdeir’s murderers, Haaretz cited Honenu as saying that it sees “defending these suspects [as] in keeping with its mission.”

But to truly get a sense of the scope of the support system in place for Israelis accused (by Israeli authorities) of perpetrating violence against Palestinians -- and for those who are inciting it -- it is important to return to that other organization mentioned at the beginning of this article—the New York-based Central Fund of Israel.

For at least 15 years, CFI has funded a slew of extremist, violent Israeli settler groups and others. In addition to Honenu and its clients, recipients of CFI money include a number of radical settlements and yeshivas (Jewish religious schools) in the occupied territories, like Od Yosef Chai in the notorious settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank, whose head rabbi published a book in 2009 justifying the murder of non-Jewish children on the grounds that they might grow up to threaten the state; Women in Green, whose leader published an open letter calling for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and called for the assassination of Palestinian PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during an appearance in Manhattan; and the messianic Temple Mount Faithful Movement, which is working toward building a Jewish temple where the Dome of the Rock and the Noble Sanctuary Mosque complex are now located in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.

While CFI has been financing a host of racist, extremist settlers and settler groups, it’s also been funding a right-wing settler propaganda outfit called Palestinian Media Watch, which claims to expose examples of incitement in the Palestinian media. Through PMW and before that a group called the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, Itamar Marcus, part of the settler family that runs CFI, has been highly successful at perpetuating stereotypes in the American media and among U.S. politicians of Palestinians being inherently violent and teaching their children to hate. During her time as a senator from New York, Hillary Clinton was a strong supporter of Marcus and PMW, once praising him as a “steadfast leader” and appearing before a congressional committee to speak in support of his work.

And here’s where things come full circle. Over the past several years, the Israeli government and military have been outsourcing some of their official monitoring of the Palestinian media to PMW. So Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing government are working closely with Itamar Marcus and PMW to demonize Palestinians (whose land they are busy stealing) as hate-filled terrorists, while the Marcus family-run CFI funds both PMW and a long list of extremist, violent Israeli settlers and others who have done so much to antagonize Palestinians and to fuel the conflict itself.

The U.S. State Department has declared that it “has faith” in Israel’s will and capacity to prosecute settler violence. But that faith is founded on quicksand. All indications are that the violence is intensifying and expanding, with right-wing leaders continuing to incite acts of violence, including a recent call by one urging the burning of churches.

While we wait to see whether the State Department’s faith is well-placed, and while we acknowledge the rights of all accused to due process, there is no reason for U.S. taxpayers to continue to subsidize an organization whose sole mission is to support and defend a particular group of dangerous criminals, whom even Benjamin Netanyahu calls “terrorists.”

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By David Palumbo-Liu

David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. Follow him on Twitter at @palumboliu.

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Aol_on Benjamin Netanyahu Central Fund Of Israel Honenu Israel Israeli Settlers Palestinians