Are settlers protecting leftist NGOs?
Two draconian clauses were removed from a controversial law requiring added transparency in the funding of NGOs mere hours before the bill passed its final readings in the Knesset on Monday. The reason? Pressure from an unexpected group: settler organizations.
MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) – one of the bill’s most fervent supporters – announced Monday that he was withdrawing two amendments from the bill. The Jerusalem Post reported that he dropped the amendments “at the request of Zionist organizations who told him the amendments would harm them.” So who are these Zionist organizations and why would they be worried by the legislation?
As exposed by The New York Times last year, settler organizations receive a sizable portion of their funding from American charities that enjoy tax-exempt status in the US. Through loopholes and deceptive reporting, many of the charities funneling money to West Bank outposts (illegal even under Israeli law) are able to fund illegal building and even paramilitary equipment while providing their donors with tax breaks. By granting such donations tax-exempt status with minimal transparency, the United States Treasury is in effect subsidizing illegal settlement outposts in the occupied territories.
So why did Rotem withdraw his amendments that were intended to target human rights NGOs? Which Zionist organizations lobbied him to drop the more controversial clauses? More likely than not, they were “charitable organizations” similar to those highlighted in the New York Times report.
Transparency would be harmful to these organizations for two reasons. Firstly, if the groups’ founders were to be named in Israel (the information is not necessarily public in the US), some of their higher profile donors might be discouraged from financing the more controversial operations. Secondly, such transparency poses a serious threat to the US-based charities by drawing unwanted attention to their activities and thus threatening their coveted tax-exempt status.
Just as the Jewish National Fund, Magen David Adom, all Israeli universities and countless other Israeli organizations rely greatly on donations from overseas, so do the settler organizations whose very existence contradicts US policy on the West Bank. While these organizations would not disappear without their funding from Brooklyn and Los Angeles, any diminishing of this support would certainly curtail their activities in the West Bank.
Ironic as it may be, settler organizations may have actually prevented a witch-hunt targeting the human rights and peace groups they have grown to despise. Himself a resident of the Efrat settlement in Gush Etzion, Rotem was seemingly pressured by his own settler friends to withdraw the legislation.
This post first appeared on The Jerusalem Post‘s online site