A new bill would prevent New York state-based registered charities from funding illegal Israeli settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.
Introduced by state Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, the bill is the first of its kind in targeting US-based not-for-profit organizations involved in the violent dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
Mamdani told The Electronic Intifada that representatives of human rights groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Adalah Justice Project, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, came to his office “and provided us with evidence of the fact that there were a number of New York registered charities sending at least $60 million a year to Israeli settler organizations.”
The bill would instruct New York to prohibit, fine and shut down registered charities under the not-for-profit corporation law if they are found to be “aiding or abetting activity in support of illegal Israeli settlements in violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.” The bill notes that “between 2017 and 2019 alone, organizations that are known to primarily fund illegal settler activities fundraised over $144 million in New York State.”
As these groups, masquerading as charities, operate in direct violation of international law, they enjoy tax-exempt status in New York, the bill adds.
“In short, New York State is effectively subsidizing illegal activity abroad, and has been complicit in violent dislocations of Palestinian people,” Mamdani’s bill explains.
The Center for Constitutional Rights says that along with heavy fines – no less than $1 million – levied on organizations found to be in violation of the bill, it “would also enable Palestinians harmed by war crimes funded by New York-registered charities to sue the groups in New York courts.”
The lawmaker told The Electronic Intifada that one of the registered charities that would be stopped by his bill is the Central Fund of Israel.
“This is a New York state-registered charity that even in its founding was explicit that the intention of the organization was to rectify what they saw as insufficient support from Jewish organizations for the settlement project,” he said.
In 2013, the Central Fund of Israel was one of five settlement funding organizations that were sued by 13 Palestinians alleging that the groups had violated the material support statute, which prohibits individuals from “knowingly providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.”
The Central Fund of Israel, along with other New York-based charities, were alleged to have supported terrorist activities by funding settlers who have firebombed, thrown stones and shot at Palestinians, burned Palestinian land and trees, and vandalized Palestinian houses of prayer in the West Bank.
That lawsuit was rejected by a judge but the plaintiffs pursued an appeal in 2015.
The Not On Our Dime campaign highlights the Central Fund of Israel’s funding activities, saying that since 2017, “its size has more than doubled” and it is “sending almost 50 million dollars annually to Israel and its illegal settlements.”
According to the campaign, the Central Fund of Israel has acted as nearly the sole source of funding to the Israel Land Fund, a settler organization that is leading the charge to expel Palestinians from the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Beit Hanina in order to replace them with Israeli settlers.
“I think that when we think about the impact of this money, it’s critical to understand not only is this money substantial in its scale, in an absolute sense; it is also substantial in the fact that oftentimes it makes up a significant – if not a majority – of the funding of the settler organizations,” Mamdani told The Electronic Intifada. He also highlighted the New York-based charity Friends of Ir David.
“The donations that Friends of Ir David sends to an Israeli charity known as Elad made up two-thirds of Elad’s entire donation pool,” Mamdani added.
Tel Aviv publication Haaretz reported in 2016 that Friends of Ir David contributed around $33 million to Elad over eight years.
“This legislation is being introduced after years, if not decades, of investigations that have been conducted by journalists as well as organizations that stand up for Palestinian human rights,” Mamdani said.
“We grounded this in the Geneva Convention to make it clear that while our legislation specifically focuses on actions with regards to Israeli settlements, we believe in a universal commitment to human rights,” he added.
“This is not a bill introduced simply to declare a statement of values – that New York stands up for human rights with no exception, and that includes Palestinians,” Mamdani explained.
“This is a piece of legislation introduced to make explicit the complicity we have as a state government through the way in which we are conferring a charitable designation to organizations that are clearly in violation of not only just the Geneva Conventions, but also what a common sense understanding would be of a charitable purpose.”
Standing against backlash
As soon as Mamdani’s bill was announced, Israel advocates attempted to smear the lawmaker and the measure as attacks against Jewish organizations.
Dozens of members of the New York state assembly signed on to a letter accusing Mamdani’s bill as “a ploy to demonize Jewish charities with connections to Israel” and an “attack” on groups that feed the poor and provide medical treatment.
In response, Mamdani explained that the bi does not apply to charities that provide humanitarian relief – only to those that fund illegal settlement activities and help ethnically cleanse Palestinians. “The rhetorical tactics employed by this letter to suggest otherwise is an attempt to avoid the issue at hand: settlements,” he wrote.
“This legislation will only impact organizations found to be supporting activities in violation of international law, such as aiding and abetting the demolition and arson of Palestinian schools, homes and agricultural land,” he wrote. “Funding colonialism and violence is not a charitable activity, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in our fight to make that explicit in NY state law.”