WASHINGTON – The Jewish Federation of San Francisco said on Wednesday that it won’t support the right-wing blacklist “Canary Mission” in the future, after admitting that it had helped send a $100,000 donation to the group in 2016. In a statement issued hours after The Forward reported on that donation, the Federation said that “a one time grant” supporting Canary Mission was made in 2016, but that a year later, the Federation “strengthened the implementation of our review process” for donations.
The Forward report showed that the donation for Canary Mission was funneled through three other organizations. The first organization was the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which mostly focuses on educational work in Israel. The second organization was The Central Fund for Israel, which is a right-wing organization that supports settlements in the West Bank and has ties to some of the most extreme right-wing groups in Israel. The final organization involved in funneling the money to Canary Mission was an Israel-based group called “Megamot Shalom.”
The Federation said that after it strengthened the implementation of its donation guidelines, one of the organizations involved in this specific donation, The Central Fund for Israel, was found to be “not in compliance with our guidelines, which apply to donor-advised funds and supporting foundations.” The statement ended with a promise that “both the Helen Diller Family Foundation and the Federation will not support the Canary Mission in the future.”
Canary Mission has been criticized by a number of pro-Israeli student groups for its aggressive tactics. In addition, a number of American citizens who have been questioned about their political activities when trying to enter Israel in recent months, have claimed that Israeli security officials were relying on the website for their investigation. Most recently, Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American student who was denied entry to Israel on Tuesday, said she was shown a photo of herself taken from the Canary Mission website.
Since its launch in 2015, Canary Mission has refused to reveal the sources of its funding. On Wednesday, a report in The Forward showed that at least $100,000 supporting the controversial group had come from The Jewish Federation of San Francisco. The money, according to the report, was funneled to Canary Mission through the Diller Family Foundation, a group mostly known for investments in Jewish education initiatives.
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The Diller Foundation passed the $100,000 to an Israel-based organization called Megamot Shalom, marking it with the following language: “Canary Mission for Megamot Shalom.” The report also stated that Megamot Shalom is operated by Jonathan Bash, the same person who operates Canary Mission’s website.
“It is extremely disturbing that a major mainstream American Jewish organization is bankrolling the activities of the Canary Mission,” said Debra Shushan, director of policy at Americans for Peace Now. “We call on the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco and its constituent bodies to cease such funding immediately and to condemn the Canary Mission,” Shushan added.
She also told Haaretz that Canary Mission is “a shadowy enterprise which seeks to intimidate college students who do not fall in line with its right-wing perspective on Israel. The trend of abandonment of establishment institutions by young American Jews will only accelerate if these organizations continue to support such extremist and anti-democratic projects."
More than a hundred pro-Israeli student activists in a number of American universities published an article against the organization in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency earlier this year, writing that it was ”counterproductive“ and “morally reprehensible.” Other critics have accused the organization of using “McCarthyist” tactics to intimidate critics of Israel.
Jacob Labendz, director of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies at Youngstown State University, wrote in reply to the story: “People tell us all the time to donate to Federation, despite objections over Israel projects, explaining that they support only charitable works that benefit all. If you live in the San Francisco area, this seems not to be true at all. No excuse for funding Canary Mission.”
Simone Zimmerman, an activist with the left-wing Jewish group IfNotNow, wrote on her twitter account: “shame on JFNA and Diller. Absolutely disgusted to know that Jewish communal leaders are funding disgusting, shady harassment campaigns against activists via canary mission.” Zimmerman worked on Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016, but was fired over a Facebook post in which she used profanities against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In August, Zimmerman was held by the Shin Bet security service at the border between Israel and Egypt for at least three hours while Shin Bet agents asked her what she thought of Israel's prime minister.
Last month, a leaked excerpt from the censored Al Jazeera documentary about the Israeli lobby in the United States showed one pro-Israeli activist claiming that Canary Mission was actually funded by Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American millionaire from Los Angeles. Milstein denied that he had donated to Canary Mission, and the activist secretly recorded by Al Jazeera later apologized to him and said that he in fact had no idea who was funding the secretive organization.