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Canada should strip charitable status from groups funding the Israeli army

Canadian charities raised $3.5 billion in 2018 for global initiatives, with a quarter of a billion dollars going to Israel

Canadian PoliticsMiddle East

Members of the IDF’s elite Duvdevan Unit during a training exercise. Photo courtesy the Israel Defense Forces.

Canada Revenue Agency rules state that “supporting the armed forces of another country is not” charitable. Yet newly released files confirm that the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA), a registered charity based in Toronto, supports the Israeli military.

In July, a formal legal complaint was submitted by Canadian-Palestinian activist Khaled Mouammar and Rabbi David Mivasair to the CRA detailing CZCA’s support for the Israeli military. At the time more than 1,800 people emailed the CRA to call for an investigation into the charity, which raised over $3 million in 2019. Through tax receipts for individuals’ donations, the public is on the hook for a significant share of that sum.

A formal addendum to the July complaint was filed this week after lawyer Shane Martinez gained access to CZCA’s annual statements to the CRA through an access to information request.

According to the charity’s filings with the CRA, CZCA has funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to “Scholarships/mentorships - Duvdevan.” Otherwise known as Unit 217, Duvdevan is a mista’arvim, or counter-terrorism division, within the Israel Defense Forces.

According to the Duvdevan Foundation the “unit was established in June 1986, with the understanding that a specific and intelligent warfare method needed to be developed to deal with Judea and Samaria’s [occupied West Bank] security incidents.” Duvdevan commandos often disguise themselves as locals and have repeatedly killed Palestinians.

The Duvdevan Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization that supports the wellbeing of active soldiers, veterans, and bereaved families of fallen warriors of the Duvdevan Unit.” It is also the “only Foundation that represents graduates of the Duvdevan Undercover Unit of the IDF.”

On its website, the Foundation repeatedly references CZCA, calling it a “partner organization for tax purposes.”

Another program the CZCA has funded is dubbed “From Uniform to University,” a joint project of Yahad: United for Israel’s Soldiers, the official body for donations which benefit IDF soldiers, and the Department for Discharged Soldiers in the Ministry of Defense. From Uniform to University “provides financial assistance to every combat or disadvantaged soldier recruited by the Israeli army since July 1st 2013 onwards, after completing full compulsory service.”

Through this initiative, CZCA, Yahad and other groups absorb costs the Israeli Ministry of Defense would otherwise cover.

CZCA also funds “Shamoon” scholarships. In its description of the scholarship, CZCA says recipients must have “military service as a combat or combat-support soldier.”

The organization lists numerous donations to “Bereaved families, widows and orphans camp in Israel.” That is likely a reference to an initiative run by the US-based Friends of the IDF, which “provides for [the] wellbeing of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.”

The newly released documents add weight to the assertion made in the July complaint that CZCA is acting as a conduit for donations to the Association of Soldiers Israel Canada (ASI-Canada), which is not a registered charity and thus unable to provide tax receipts to donors. A 2011 financial statement notes that CZCA “has related party transactions with [REDACTED] which is jointly controlled under the same management.” While the name is redacted, it is likely referring to ASI-Canada, which shares an office, phone number and staff with CZCA.

ASI-Canada and CZCA hold joint annual fundraisers. CZCA offers tax receipts for donations to ASI-Canada, which calls itself “the only non-profit organization in Canada supporting the wellbeing of Israeli soldiers on active duty.”

In itself, acting as a financial conduit for ASI-Canada should prompt the CRA to revoke CZCA’s charitable status. This is likely why CZCA’s spokesperson responded to a Canadian Jewish News question about the July complaint by saying it was “fully separate” from ASI-Canada, claiming its partnership with that group was simply a way to reduce costs.

Before CZCA’s annual financial statements were released to Martinez it was already clear the group was violating CRA rules. An Israeli military website listed CZCA as an organization “authorized to raise donations for the IDF” and in 2019 it allocated over $1.7 million to Yahad, which says its “aim is raising funds for IDF soldiers.”

Canadian taxpayers should not be subsidizing an apartheid state, nor an Israeli military that is actively oppressing Palestinians. It’s time the CRA revoke the charitable status of the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association.

You can take action by writing to Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier and to Canada Revenue Agency officials to let them know the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA) is violating charitable rules and that it’s time that the CRA revoke its charitable status.

Bianca Mugyenyi is an author, activist and director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute. She is based in Montréal.

Karen Rodman is the director of Just Peace Advocates, an international human rights organization based in Canada, and a retired senior manager with more than 30 years with the Ontario Public Service.


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