Rabbi David Mivasair, Corey Balsam, and Ismail Zayid discuss their joint efforts to revoke the JNF’s charity status in Canada, but the Canadian authorities have a long history of supporting Israeli colonization in Palestine. www.stopthejnf.ca

Sharmini Peries is a journalist and executive producer for the National and International News Bureaus at The Real News Network. As co-founder of TRNN, she harnesses the power and expertise of civil society institutions to curate programming for TRNN. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).

Video & Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Has the Jewish National Fund violated Canada’s charitable status laws by using tax deductible donations to fund ethnic cleansing and military projects in Israel? They are also accused of funding illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank and Palestine. And has the Canadian government been ignoring these violations of Canada’s charitable status laws by ignoring such activities by the Jewish National Fund?

According to the Jewish National Fund website, it was founded in 1902 to buy land in Palestine and settle them with Jews to protect its homeland. After the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, it continued to manage the largest estates of land in Israel, only renting or leasing these lands to Jews, and discriminating against Palestinians. The JNF uses what is known as “greenwashing,” they say, to plant trees on destroyed Palestinian villages, and they do this in order to conceal them and to prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their lands.

A new initiative by the human rights organization Independent Jewish Voices of Canada has launched a campaign to stop the Jewish National Fund and hold them accountable for its actions of ethnic cleansing and discrimination based on ethnicity using Canadian charitable status. This group demands its charitable status be revoked.

To discuss all of this with me today I’m joined by a panel of esteemed guests who are actively involved in the complaint that has been lodged against JNF and the Canadian Revenue Agency. First we have Rabbi David Mivasair. He is a rabbi and a member of the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada. Rabbi, thank you for joining us.


SHARMINI PERIES: I’m also being joined by Corey Balsam. He is the national coordinator for Independent Jewish Voices of Canada. Thanks for joining us, Corey.

COREY BALSAM: Thanks, Sharmini. It’s a pleasure to be on.

SHARMINI PERIES: And also we have a very esteemed and special guest, Dr. Ismail Zayid. He is a physician who was born in the village of Beit Nuba, in Palestine. His village, along with other villages, were destroyed by the Israeli army after the 1967 war. Now, JNF has now established what is known today as Canada’s Park in his former village. I thank you for joining us today, Ismail.

ISMAIL ZAYID: Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Rabbi David, let me start with you first. In the website of the Jewish National Fund it says that it is obtaining land so that Jews will have a place to call home. Their national homeland is being protected by this very noble mission, according to them. Why do you challenge this mission by making complaints to the CRA and the Canadian government, and also launching this campaign?

DAVID MIVASAIR: Well, thanks for the question. Actually, in the beginning, 115 years ago, when Jews didn’t really have a place and were very threatened, very marginalized, I think that was a noble cause. And another thing to point out is those lands are held collectively. It’s not private ownership. So there’s something kind of progressive in that background of more than a century ago. And little by little, the Jewish National Fund did acquire land. Sometimes acre by acre. Sometimes they could buy, like, a thousand acres from a wealthy landowner. Little by little they did that, from the beginning of the 20th century up until 1948 and the founding of the state of Israel.

And at that time, as most people know, something like 750,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes, off of their land, their farms, their towns, villages, urban neighborhoods, and were never allowed back. And then those lands were assigned or given to the JNF, the Jewish National Fund. So that’s very problematic. And those people, who rightfully owned those lands, still have not been allowed to come back. So it sounds like a noble thing to acquire land in the land of Israel for Jewish people to live on. But really, for more than 70 years now, it’s been just blatantly discriminating against the people who used to live there. And many of them are like even internal refugees; in other words, they were kicked off their own land. Most of them were kicked right out, and they live in refugee camps in other countries. But some of them still live in Israel. But they can’t go home again. And those lands have been taken over by the Jewish National Fund.

SHARMINI PERIES: Corey, let me go to you. Tell us why you have launched this campaign, and what you expect of the Canadian government and the CRA to do about this campaign, or the complaint you brought forward.

COREY BALSAM: Thanks, Sharmini, for the question. Basically our objective is to have the charitable status of the JNF revoked in Canada. I think it’s quite clear that they’ve been in violation of–they’ve been operating in violation of various Canadian laws. There seems to be a clear disparity between how Muslim organizations and organizations that support policy and rights, for example, are treated by the Canada Revenue Agency. And we simply want the Canada Revenue Agency to hold the JNF to the same standards; to their standards that they’ve set and applied.

So you know, given that complaints that have been made about the JNF in the past have not been treated fairly, and in our views haven’t really gone anywhere, and the JNF hasn’t faced any repercussions, you know, we’ve really decided to make this a public campaign to, you know, to get broad-based support, and also do education at the same time. As a Jewish organization, you know, we also want to educate the Canadian public about these issues, but also really focus on the Jewish community, different Jewish communities in Canada, who are often very familiar with the JNF and haven’t been aware that, you know, of what the JNF has been doing with their funds.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Ismail, let me go to you. You embody this issue. Your village of Beit Nuba was destroyed 51 years ago. You lived for decades in Canada now, trying to fight what the JNF is doing, and your activism during these years has not stopped the Canadian government from allowing JNF to do this. So tell us about your struggle to fight this, as well as, you know, your efforts trying to get support for what you’ve been fighting here.

ISMAIL ZAYID: Well, my struggle is basically built on the fact that the Jewish National Fund is built on ethnic cleansing and discrimination. The ethnic cleansing was right from its inception. It’s there. And in fact, to quote for you, the head of the JNF Settlement Department, Yossef Weitz, he stated in December 1940 that the only solution is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries. Not a single village or a single tribe must be let off. That is the ethnic cleansing. There’s a design in the JNF. And as to the discrimination, Israel is practicing the rules of–the JNF is practicing rules of discrimination against non-Jews, against Muslim and Christian Palestinians. And as it related already, in fact, in what they do, that is violation of international law under the CRA.

My personal involvement in Canada, that was started in 1978 on the 4th of December, 1978. There was a gala held in Halifax for honoring Peter [Hirschorn], who was the former director of the JNF in the Atlantic regions. And it was described–it was attended by the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, the premier of Nova Scotia, and the mayor of Halifax. And it was stated that he was being honored for the humane work he did in creating the Canada Park. And I was appalled. And I wrote to all of them. I said, “How can that possibly be humane work, to destroy people’s homes and create recreation parks on the ruins of these people’s homes, and in the land of, this land, and call it humane work?” And to my–at least the lieutenant governor responded and said he’s sorry, that he didn’t know that. But the others did not respond.

And this is–since then I have been writing to the CRA repeatedly, saying this is this is a war crime; the JNF is committing war crimes by destroying these villages. My village, Beit Nuba, together with the two neighboring villages, Imwas and Yalu, were deliberately demolished in June 1967, after the aggressive war that Israel waged under direct orders of Yitzhak Rabin, who was the chief of staff of the Israeli army at the time. And the villages were destroyed, and our people were expelled from these villages. Nearly 14,000 people were kicked out. And and the JNF proceeded collecting money in Canada for wielding this Canada Park on the ruins of these villages and the land of these villages. And this is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is defined by international law as a war crime.

And this just [inaudible]. As to the question of discrimination as was mentioned, it goes on. The incredible thing in this is our government allows this continued charitable status for the JNF, and the CRA allows this, despite not only my own but many other people calling for this charitable status to be revoked. As I said, it is discrimination. And let me just tell you that the discrimination was, in fact, reported about the JNF by the United Nations Committee for Economic Social and Cultural Rights in 1998. They stated that this is discrimination the JNF was practicing, and must not be allowed. Moreover, most fundamentally, the attorney general of Israel, Menachem Mazuz, in 2005 established, stated a ruling, that the practices of the JNF are based on discrimination and must not be allowed, and we should take out the claim of the JNF as a human rights society.

This is, in fact, goes on to this day, and we must really put an end to it. Our government, our tax dollars, should not be allowed to be practiced for discrimination and racism and war crimes.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Rabbi, the researcher Megan McKenzie covered that the JNF was using donation money, charitable donation money, to support Israeli military projects. And this seems to be a real red line when it comes to Canadian charitable rules. But the JNF is now saying that it will stop supporting Israeli army and military activity with the Canadian money. Is this enough? Or do you want to achieve much more in terms of the actual–having the actual charitable status revoked.

DAVID MIVASAIR: Well, there’s two things. First, the JNF said they’ve stopped funding building projects within Israeli military bases. They didn’t say they stopped funding military projects. So they have continued funding projects to train people and prepare people to serve in the military, and to keep up skills the military needs from them. They’re still doing that. That’s in their 2017 report on their expenses. That’s one thing. And the other question that you asked, actually, is is that enough? So no, that’s not enough. The JNF, Jewish National Fund, violates Canadian tax law by ethnically discriminating against other people who are not Jews. You can’t be a charitable organization and discriminate. It doesn’t work that way. So that alone should disqualify them, even if they completely stopped supporting military projects.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Ismail, is that your conclusion, as well? They must have their charitable status revoked? This organization just should stop existing as an organization that can garner charitable funds from Canadians, and be able to disperse them as they wish?

ISMAIL ZAYID: In my opinion, it’s incredible that our tax dollars should be used to support a society that discriminates against even citizens of the state of Israel who happen to be Christians or Muslims. They are discriminated against. Our dollars should not be spent there. Furthermore, as I said, the JNF claims to go and build parks, but they’re deliberately destroying homes and villages, and so on. There are scores and hundreds of villages, Palestinian villages, in Israel today that have been demolished and wiped out completely. And the JNF participates in creating parks or planting trees, and so on. This should not be allowed to continue.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Corey, let me give you the last word here. The former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a big fan of JNF. You could see the various photo ops in terms of his support for the organization. Justin Trudeau appears to be following the same kind of line in terms of his support for JNF. So under these circumstances, we also have Justin Trudeau coming out and saying that he would not support a BDS, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, campaign against Israel for the kind of discrimination that they carry out in Israel and Palestine. Now, given these circumstances, what are the chances of your campaign succeeding in terms of revoking the charitable status of JNF?

COREY BALSAM: Thanks, Sharmini, for that question. Obviously with this we’re going up against the structures of power in Canada that’s a reluctance to put pressure on Israel, just as in the U.S., seeking to demonize those who support Palestinian rights.

Now, the way it works in Canada with audits or investigations into a charity is they’re at least supposed to be impartial. And we just actually had a major precedent set. There was an organization called [bid a lot], which lost its charitable status in January for many of the same reasons, including supporting projects that are in the interest of the military, that were pre-Army training activities, as well as projects in the settlements. And in the government’s report it was very clear why those activities are not charitable. And of course, the same with the JNF.

Now, will there be political interference in that? You know, I think–I expect that is the case. There is now a major scandal in Canada because the government has tried to protect a large engineering company, SNC Lavalin, from prosecution for corruption issues. And that’s really–you know, dominating headlines here in Canada. So you know, I think we can–given that, and of course, other things that we know, we expect that there will be some political interference in this. But if the law is followed, and if, you know, the revenue agency is able to operate impartially, then we do expect some results.

One thing I just want to mention is that we have a petition going which has already collected over 2,000 signatures and got a lot of support, including from ex-diplomats, former UN representatives, and parliamentarians. So we encourage Canadians to sign that, and help to keep up the pressure on the government to follow their own laws.

SHARMINI PERIES: Ismail, let me go to you, actually, and give you the last word. The JNF claims that it has planted a quarter of a billion trees in Palestine with the money that they have raised from the fund. What do you make of this project? And then, secondly, why should people support this campaign that’s underway that’s been launched by Jewish Voices of Canada?

ISMAIL ZAYID: The Jewish Voices of Canada in relation to this issue are conducting a correct campaign, because the Jewish National Fund does not deserve to be a charitable status, for reasons we explained already; the ethnic cleansing and the discrimination and the racism that is the practiced. The conditions that, as I said, has been confirmed by the United Nations human rights group, as well as the U.S. State Department and others said already. The ethnic cleansing was also formulated in the basic laws of the JNF, as stated by Yossef Weitz in 1940. The claims that the land the JNF now owns, and so on, is a land belonging to the refugees in Palestine that were ethnically cleansed and kicked out their land, and not allowed to return, in violation of international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention and repeated United Nations resolutions, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifies correctly that people have the right to return to their homes. This is what the practices of the JNF, as I said already, in violation of the Geneva Convention, and they are war crimes. The claim that they plant trees and they have given money to human rights groups have no basis whatsoever. The practices of the JNF are in violation of international law and should not be used to take our tax dollars for this purpose.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Rabbi, go ahead. You have a little pitch for me.

DAVID MIVASAIR: I do have a pitch. So all listeners who are Canadian citizens or legal residents of Canada, please go to this website and sign the petition. That’s a formal legal Parliamentary petition that will be presented in Parliament, and the government of Canada is obliged to respond to it. And that’s going to be open for signatures until May 9, 2019. So please, if you’re Canadian, you can help by going there and signing that petition.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So this is a campaign of the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, and that was Rabbi David Mivasair. And I’ve also been speaking with Corey Balsam. He is the executive director of the organization. And I’ve been speaking with Dr. Ismail Zayid. I thank you all for joining us today.

DAVID MIVASAIR: Thank you, Sharmini.

COREY BALSAM: Thank you.

ISMAIL ZAYID: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us, and we will put a link to the campaign right below this player, if you would like to sign it. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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