World News

07.10.14

How U.S. Taxpayers Are Subsidizing The Defense Of Palestinian Teen’s Alleged Killers

An Israeli group is raising tax-exempt money in the U.S. to support Israelis charged with or convicted of violence against Palestinians.

By Uri Blau for ProPublica

A controversial Israeli organization that’s representing the six men recently arrested in the recent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager is receiving thousands of dollars in tax-deductible support from Americans. The group, called Honenu (which roughly translates to “pardon”), supportsIsraelis charged with or convicted of violence against Palestinians.

Honenu’swork goes well goes beyond legal aid.

The group says it also provides “spiritual” and “financial” assistanceto prisoners and their families. Among those Honenu has helped: Yigal Amir, assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; an Israeli convicted of murdering seven Palestinians at a bus stop; and an Israeli soldier convicted ofmanslaughter and obstruction of justice after shooting a British photographer in Gaza.

The tax-exempt donations do not appear to run afoul of U.S. law. But they do put U.S. taxpayers in the position ofsubsidizing aid to Israelis convicted of politically motivated violence.

Asked about the group’s work, Honenuspokesman Eran Schwartz said the organization “provides much help to Israeli police, soldiers and citizens who are entitled, as are all people, to legal defense.” Schwartz declined to answer our other questions, including about the group’s financial support that goes beyond legal defense. (See their full statement.)

Honenu’s latest filing to the Israeli government shows it overall budget for 2012 was nearly $600,000, about $120,000 of which went to legal aid, $34,000 to “financial assistance,” and the rest to salaries and overhead. (Here is Honenu’s filing, in Hebrew.)

They put U.S. taxpayers in the position ofsubsidizing aid to Israelis convicted of politically motivated violence.

The group, which was founded in 2001, uses an American nonprofit as conduit for donations. Honenu’s website, which advertises that “your contribution is tax-deductible,” says checks should be made out to “Central Fund of Israel,” or CFI. As the New York Times detailed in 2010, the Central Fund of Israel serves as a “clearinghouse” for donations to hundreds of groups in Israel, some of them supporting settlements.

CFI has grown almost continuously since it was founded in 1979 by members of the Marcus family, who own a New York textile company.

Operating from Manhattan’s garment district, CFI received about $16 million in 2012, according to the Fund’s latest filing with the Internal Revenue Service. Jay Marcus, who now runs CFI, said donations in 2013 reached about $19 million.

In the Fund’s filings with the IRS, it lists donations to Israeli groups as going to “social services, humanitarian aid, and aid to the poor.”

Marcus confirmed in a phone call that his organization transfers donations to Honenu. “They are a legal aid society,” he said.

Honenu’s filing with the Israeli government shows the group received about $120,000 fromCFI in 2012. The documents identify another $12,000 coming from “Honenu USA.” A nonprofit organization with that name operated from Queens, New York and last filed a report (PDF) to the Internal Revenue Service in 2010, stating it hadreceived contributions of $33,000. It is not clear if Honenu USA is still active.

Marcus Owens, a lawyer who ran the IRS’s nonprofit unit in the 1990ssaid such donations can fall into a tricky area:“While providing legal assistance to those accused of crimes is a long-standing charitable purpose (e.g. the American Civil Liberties Union), providing assistance to relatives of those convicted of crimes has been viewed by the US government as potentially encouraging further criminal action.”

The State Department’s recent annual report on terrorism included, for the first time, attacks by Israelis against Palestinians, citing a rise in “violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement.”

If you have experience with or information about American nonprofits supporting extremists in Israel, email Uri Blau. Blau is an Israeli investigative journalist specialized in military and political affairs, corruption and transparency. He was a 2014 Nieman Fellow for Journalism at Harvard University.