By Morton A. Klein & Elizabeth A. Berney
Israel has been suffering rising terror attacks from its enemies on multiple fronts within the past month. Palestinian Arab and Bedouin Islamist terrorists murdered 15 innocent Jews and others in cold blood. The Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Islamic State (ISIS) are inciting more terror with calls to “escalate confrontation with the Israeli occupation and force it to retreat from Palestinian soil.” Hamas is “celebrating” Ramadan by firing rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Palestinian Arab factions are firing rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel. Palestinian Arabs vandalized and set fire to Joseph’s Tomb, a sacred Jewish religious site. Arab rioters are throwing rocks, pipes and fireworks at Jewish worshippers and police at the Western Wall and Temple Mount.
Compounding this suffering, 19 rabbis of the far-left group T’ruah are attacking pro-Israel Jewish charities that help Israeli families victimized by Palestinian Arab terror. They went public with their defamatory June 2021 letter, demanding that the New York Jewish Communal Fund should stop allowing grants to the humanitarian Central Fund of Israel (CFI). Stopping such grants would harm the 350-plus charities funded by CFI.
T’ruah has been waging a war against pro-Israel charities for years, including by filing complaints demanding revocation of the tax-exempt status of pro-Israel Jewish charities, including CFI.
Its rabbis are thus making common cause with those in the anti-Israel “Squad” of the U.S. House of Representatives and efforts to persuade the IRS to remove pro-Israel charities’ tax exemption, which would constitute illegal viewpoint discrimination.
In July 2021, seven Democratic congressional members—Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)—wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen demanding revocation of the tax-exempt status of pro-Israel Jewish charities that provide humanitarian aid if some of it helps Jews in the lawful, historic Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria, as well as parts of Jerusalem. The letter by “The Squad” specifically targeted CFI and American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva (previously headed by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman).
CFI’s grantees include groups that care for people with special needs; scholarships for children with special needs; nutrition and poverty relief; combating ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease); battered women’s shelters and other assistance for women; helping Ethiopians and other vulnerable groups obtain jobs; helping bereaved mothers, fathers, widows, orphans and siblings who have lost loved ones to terror and other tragedies; a fund to provide chickens to the needy; a news agency that provides accurate information about Israel; aid for Jewish expellees from Gush Katif (in Gaza); security; medical organizations; humanitarian needs of soldiers; rabbinic training; and meals for the elderly.
This is what the T’ruah’s rabbis would stop.
Flag March fallacies
The letter’s primary claims are that CFI funds a group called Hemla; that Hemla funnels money to a group called Lehava; and that “every year on Jerusalem Day, Lehava and partners organize the Flag March that “terrorizes Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”
CFI has never given a penny to Lehava. During the past six years, the only grant CFI made to Hemla was for a mere $650, back in 2017. That’s half the cost of an iPhone. CFI gave nothing to Hemla the year before (2016) or since (2018-2022).
Incidentally, contrary to the rabbis’ ridiculous claim that Jerusalem Flag Marches are violent onslaughts of Lehava activists running through the streets “terrorizing Arabs,” the Jerusalem Flag Marches are primarily peaceful occasions, organized by other groups. The video of the Jerusalem Flag March shows Jewish mothers pushing their toddlers in strollers, klezmer and Mizrachi bands playing lively Israeli music, and 5,000 peaceful Jewish children, teens and others walking and dancing with the Israeli flag to celebrate the Jewish people’s eternal capital Jerusalem’s reunification on Yom Yerushalayim “Jerusalem Day”). This marks the anniversary of the miraculous day when brave young Jews repelled the attacking Jordanian army; regained the Jewish people’s holiest sites, including the Temple Mount; and restored the Jewish people’s ability to live in Jerusalem and freely pray at the Western Wall without being shot by Jordanian snipers. These marches are much like the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York, organized by the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, where Jewish schoolchildren and groups walk down Fifth Avenue, singing and waving Israeli flags.
Palestinian Arabs are the ones who are guilty of real “terrorizing” with actual violence at Jerusalem flag marches. Last year, dozens of Palestinian Arabs assaulted and threw rocks at police officers providing security for the march, resulting in injuries and 17 Arabs being arrested. Israel’s Kan radio reported that Palestinian Arabs also chanted “with fire and blood, we’ll liberate Palestine.” The 19 T’ruah rabbis ignore this, and instead solely allege that Lehava activists chanted wrong statements. Of course, any statements that may have been shouted by Lehava activists are irrelevant to the Central Fund of Israel, which does not fund Lehava.
Rehashing ancient history
The letter then misleadingly complains about two organizations that CFI gave grants to about a decade ago and three groups (out of the 350 wonderful groups) that CFI gives grants to now.
The last time CFI gave a grant to Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva was in 2014, eight years ago. The last time CFI gave a grant to Mishmeret Yesha was in 2012, a decade ago.
Incidentally, Mishmeret Yesha does not “train and outfit vigilantes in the West Bank,” as the T’ruah letter falsely claims. It provides first-aid kits, bullet-proof vests and training to emergency first responders, who assist when Jewish families are attacked in their homes by Palestinian terrorists. The training has saved Jewish lives, a worthy cause. Have the 19 T’ruah rabbis forgotten the Fogel parents, kids and baby brutally massacred by Arab terrorists who invaded their home on a Sabbath evening, leaving two child survivors? Have they forgotten 13-year-old Israeli-American Hallel Yaffa Ariel, who was stabbed to death in her bed by an Arab terrorist? Why does T’ruah want to leave Israeli Jews defenseless, without first-responder training?
Three actual grantees
(1) The first CFI grantee that T’ruah complains about is Im Tirtzu, a grassroots Zionist educational organization. It is accused of “inciting against Israeli human-rights leaders.” This appears to be a misleading reference to its 2015 “Foreign Agents Report.” Im Tirtzu’s report, based on public information, describes how foreign agents masquerading as human-rights groups defame Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, and promote anti-Jewish boycotts and engage in anti-Israel lawfare. The actual situation is even worse. Reports by the Israeli government, NGO Monitor (summary) and American think tanks reveal that at least a dozen phony “human rights” groups are front ones for the PFLP, PIJ and Hamas terror organizations.
(2) Second, T’ruah asserts that the Israel Land Fund, “uses semi-legal or non-legal means to acquire Palestinian property.” There is nothing illegal about buying “Palestinian” property under Israeli law. T’ruah is really demanding that the fund should abide by the P.A.’s immoral laws that make Arab land sales to Jews a crime punishable by death.
(3) The third entity complained about is Honenu, a legitimate legal-aid group that defends Jews accused of offenses in Israeli courts. At one point, Honenu also ran a small gemach/gemilat chesed (charity fund) from which some impoverished families of accused Jews obtained small amounts of assistance. At CFI’s request, Honenu discontinued the gemach in 2015. Yet T’ruah’s rabbis would deny accused poor Jews legal aid today.
In sum, the letter repeatedly displays a malicious disregard for the truth. It’s time for T’ruah to stop trying to deplatform and harm hundreds of genuine Jewish charities that do beneficial work in Israel. Especially at this time, all Jews should be helping one another.
Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America. Elizabeth A. Berney is ZOA’s director of special projects.