Most Americans probably don’t give it much thought, but Jewish federations are tax exempt, nonprofit organizations. That means that it’s legal to donate money to them and then write it off on your taxes. In a lot of cases, money donated through these organizations end up supporting illegal Israeli settlements. Under US law, however, this is “legal.”
Think about what that means: you can donate money, legally, to support settlements deemed illegal under international law– settlements that have been built illegally on occupied land–and technically you haven’t violated any US laws. And not only that, you get to write it off on your taxes.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently published an in-depth series of reports on the finances of Jewish federations in America. What they found are questionable practices, including nepotism, potential conflicts of interest, and federation executives drawing six-figure salaries–upwards of half a million dollars a year in at least one case. This was the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Federation, who, according to the report, made about $550,000 in the year 2015, or two percent of the federation’s total donations of $26 million that year. The man’s name is Jay Sanderson, who apparently got testy in an interview with the Haaretz reporter.
“I continue to be concerned that you are taking a seemingly one dimensional approach to this piece and to the immeasurable impact of the Federation movement,” he is quoted as saying.
Sanderson’s compensation is some $200,000 more than what other comparable nonprofits pay their directors, the report states.
The report also uncovered sizeable sums of money channeled to support illegal Israeli settlements. Here is an excerpt:
“While support for Israel is clear and loudly proclaimed, support for the settlers and for organizations operating beyond the Green Line is a sensitive issue for the Federations, on which they prefer to remain silent. JFNA guidelines are vague and hard information about the extent of support is meager. Nonetheless, Haaretz has learned that Federation funds have been supporting some of the most hard-line settlers, for example in Hebron and Silwan, East Jerusalem, and organizations aspiring to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Over the four years from 2012 to 2015, individual federations directly donated about $6 million beyond the Green Line. Although figures for 2015 are partial, it seems to have been a banner year for settlers in the West Bank, who got more than $1.6 million.”
There are a total of 148 Jewish federations in the US, with 10 more in Canada. Their purpose ostensibly is to “promote Jewish life and values,” as the writer, Uri Blau, puts it. He notes that in 2014, as bombs and missiles were pulverizing Gaza, a total of $55 million was sent to Israel. That same year–2014–federations also sent food and medicine to “30,000 elderly Jews and 4,600 children in Ukraine,” this supposedly in response to “Russian military intervention.”
Apparently, as Haaretz continued its investigation, the testiness seemingly displayed by Sanderson spread to other federation officials. Here is another excerpt from the report:
The Haaretz mapping project prompted the JFNA to issue an internal memo, classified as secret, to the managements of the various Federations at the end of January, warning of requests from Haaretz for information.
“We are working with the JFNA and outside consultants on responses to help set the record straight and mitigate any potential negative impacts the story might have,” the document stated and also said, “Because of the sensitive nature of this story we respectfully request that if you are contacted directly (by the reporters) you politely tell them that you ‘will get back to them at a more convenient time’ and notify the Executive Director to discuss potential responses.”
At the JFNA General Assembly in November 2016, when Haaretz privately asked various Federation members questions about issues such as salaries, possible nepotism or support for projects beyond the Green Line, the evasions were less subtle.
“I’m really in a hurry,” one of the heads of the Boston Federation said after he had already agreed to respond to questions.
When Haaretz asked to talk with him at a later time, he said, “No, I don’t have a business card on me.”
Reportedly the Jewish federations are, collectively, the fifth biggest charity in the United States. You can go here to access the Haaretz report.