Following Haaretz Reports, Israeli NGO Halts Support for Families of Jewish Terror Suspects

IRS made inquiries into major U.S. donor to Israeli nonprofit Honenu that provides legal aid to Jews accused of violent attacks against Palestinians.

Illustration: Registered non-profit groups are lavishly funding with tax-deductible U.S. dollars - the same West Bank settlements the Obama administration considers obstacles to peace.
Netalie Ron-Raz

Honenu, an Israeli nonprofit organization that provides legal aid to Jewish terror suspects, has curtailed part of its activities and United States tax authorities have made inquiries into the funding the organization receives in the U.S., Haaretz has learned.

According to a major donor of the organization, Honenu has stopped providing support to the families of Jews suspected or convicted of violent, nationalistically-motivated crimes, which usually target Palestinian civilians.

However, the group continues to provide legal aid to the suspects themselves, including those charged in the arson murder of three members of the Dawabsheh family in the West Bank village of Duma in July.

The decision to halt the support for the families followed media reports about Honenu, including a Haaretz investigation into the flow of funds from private U.S. donors to NGOs that support Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The change in policy also came after the Central Fund of Israel, Honenu’s largest U.S. donor, temporarily severed its ties with the organization. The flow of donations resumed after Honenu pledged to stop supporting the families of Jewish terror suspects, said CFI Director Jay Marcus.

In December, Haaretz published a series of articles exposing a network of tax-exempt U.S. nonprofits that have funneled to the settlement project at least $220 million in private donations between 2009-2013, with the figures growing steadily each year.

The flow of money highlights how the U.S. government is indirectly supporting the settlement project by recognizing these groups as charities, which means they are not taxed on their income and donations made to them are tax-deductible.

Honenu, which was founded in 2002, is a key beneficiary of this network. According to reports the organization filed with Israel’s registrar of nonprofit organizations, it receives hundreds of thousands of shekels every year from the U.S. Out of 2.9 million shekels ($775,000) in donations it reported for 2014, more than half a million shekels came from the U.S., most of it donated by the CFI.

In 2013, Honenu reported spending some 50,000 shekels to support the families of Jews convicted of violent crimes against Palestinians. Among the recipients were the wife of Ami Popper, who murdered seven Palestinians in 1990; the families of a member of the Bat Ayin underground, a Jewish terror group based in the settlement of the same name; and of Zvi Strock, who was convicted in 2007 of kidnapping and abusing a Palestinian teenager.

Marcus, whose organization sent almost $23 million to Israel in 2014, is an enthusiastic backer of the settlement project but said he was not aware that Honenu transferred money to support the families of Jewish terror suspects instead of just providing legal aid. He told Haaretz in a telephone conversation last month that he had suspended CFI donations to Honenu until he received a letter confirming that the group had decided to halt that form of support.

Honenu did not respond to questions from Haaretz about its activities and policies. However, a Haaretz reporter who last week contacted the organization anonymously to enquire about donating money to families of suspects, was told that the group was now focusing only on legal support.

“We can’t help the families, we can only deal with the legal aspect,” a Honenu fundraiser said. “We’re under a magnifying glass, so we can’t give anything beyond legal aid.”

Part of that of scrutiny has come from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, which has made inquiries into the CFI and its donations to Honenu, Haaretz has learned.

Following the Haaretz report, the rabbinic human rights group T’ruah requested that the IRS and the U.S. State Department investigate whether sending funds to families of Jews convicted of terrorist crimes could be grounds for yanking the CFI’s tax-exempt status as a recognized charity.

“As rabbis and Jews, we want to ensure that charitable donations to Israel don’t support violence and incitement, which violate Jewish law and our moral system,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah’s executive director, told Haaretz.

Marcus confirmed he had recently been visited by the tax authorities but said they had found nothing wrong.

“It’s done – the IRS came to me and everything is okay. The IRS is very impressed with what we are doing,” he said. “The IRS is fine with the Central Fund.”

It is unclear whether a formal investigation has been started or whether it is still ongoing. An IRS spokesman declined to confirm or deny that a probe had been opened.

A source at the agency told Haaretz that such an investigation would be a civil rather than criminal matter, and would not be made public unless it ended in an indictment.

When the Haaretz reporter contacted Honenu, the fundraiser confirmed that the group was still accepting money for legal aid and listed several suspects for whom donations could be made. These included Amiram Ben-Uliel, the main suspect in the Duma case; Yinon Reuveni, charged with setting fire in June to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in the Galilee; Avraham Binyamin and Joshua Hess, the editors of the far-right website Hakol Hayehudi (The Jewish Voice) who are accused of inciting racism and violence against Palestinians; and Meir Ettinger, an administrative detainee believed by Israeli security services to be a leader of the radical “Hilltop Youth” settlement group – responsible for a wave of attacks against Palestinians – and founder of The Revolt, an organization that seeks to overthrow the Israeli state and establish a theocracy based on Jewish Law.

Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting http://pulitzercenter.org.