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Canada revokes group's charitable status over support for Israeli army: Report

Canada tax agency says Beth Oloth Charitable Organization gave money to Israeli programme for pre-army trainees, Global News reports
Group accused of using charitable donations 'in support of foreign armed forces' (Reuters/File photo)

A Canadian organisation has been stripped of its charitable status after the country's federal tax agency determined that it had funnelled donations to a programme in support of the Israeli army, as well as to projects in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sent Beth Oloth Charitable Organization a notice of proposed revocation of its charitable status on 12 January, Canadian media outlet Global News first reported on Monday.

Citing CRA documents, Global News said the organisation, which was founded in 1980, lost its status due to its support for "foreign armed forces" - which runs contrary to Canadian regulations on charitable donations.

"It is our position that many of the Organisation's purported activities … are to further the purpose of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Israeli armed forces, which is not a recognised charitable purpose in Canada," the CRA said in its audit.

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Registered in the Toronto area, Beth Oloth received $46m ($61m Canadian) in donations in 2017, Global News reported.

It says its goal is "to stimulate interest in providing higher Jewish education and Jewish religious training for the perpetuation of the Jewish religion and the training of teachers of Jewish religion", according to an entry on the website Charity Intelligence Canada, which vets and lists information about charities across the country.

However, the CRA said the organisation provided donations to participants in Mechina, "an Israeli educational programme that prepares high school graduates for Israeli military service", among other initiatives.

Known as mechinot, those participants provide support to the Israeli army, the CRA said.

"It is our position that these pre-army mechinot exist to provide support of the Israel Defence Forces and that funds forwarded to these mechinot are therefore in support of foreign armed forces," the agency found, according to the CRA documents obtained by Global News.

It also said Beth Oloth used charitable donations to support projects taking place in the occupied Palestinian territories. The section of the CRA documents listing the location of those activities was blacked out in the version obtained by Global News.

Support for those projects, however, runs contrary to international law, under which the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, as well as Canadian public policy, which does not recognise Israel's permanent control over the occupied Palestinian areas, the CRA said.

"While it is our opinion that the Organisation does not maintain direction and control over the activities conducted through its projects, in our view, even should the Organisation establish that it maintains direction and control over these activities, the Organisation has exceed acceptable legislative parameters, constituting a failure to devote resources to charitable activities," the agency said.

Beth Oloth will have 90 days to appeal the CRA's decision, Global News said.

Pressure on other groups

The decision to revoke Beth Oloth's charitable status comes a few weeks after Canadian media reported that the Jewish National Fund of Canada was being audited for allegedly funnelling charitable donations to Israeli army projects.

The organisation was being investigated for funding infrastructure projects on Israeli army, air and naval bases, CBC News reported, and it had disclosed to its donors last year that it was under a CRA audit.

"While no law bars a Canadian citizen from writing a cheque directly to Israel's Ministry of Defence, rules do ban tax-exempt charities from issuing tax receipts for such donations, and also ban donors from claiming tax deductions for them," the national broadcaster said at the time.

JNF Canada has been the target of a years-long effort by Palestinian rights groups that aim to have it stripped of its charitable status.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada is spearheading the "Stop the JNF" campaign, saying the group has "funded well over a dozen projects to support the [Israeli army] IDF in the last few years alone, and has officially partnered with the IDF and the Israeli Ministry of Defence".

The Canadian-Jewish advocacy group has also accused JNF Canada of helping Israel cement its control over the occupied Palestinian territories by planting trees and taking control of land in violation of international law.