T’ruah works towards a more just and secure Israel by focusing on three key areas where human rights are at stake:
- Working to end the occupation and create a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, including through seeking transparency about whether funding goes to build Israel or to build settlements; ending tax benefits for terrorists; and pursuing a new vision, based on the biblical Jubilee, in this fiftieth year of occupation.
- Supporting asylum seekers in Israel in their efforts to legalize their status, while raising awareness of the human rights issues posed by Israel’s lack of a functioning asylum system.
- Advancing the right of Bedouin Israelis in the Negev to have a voice in government decisions about their future.
Progress Towards Transparency
Are your donor dollars going to build Israel or to further entrench an occupation that violates the human rights of Palestinians and threatens the security of Israel? T’ruah achieved two major victories on transparency in 2016 as part of our work toward a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
In 2015, T’ruah launched a campaign calling on the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to reveal how much of the $100-120 million they raise each year in the U.S. goes into the settlements, which have been a major obstacle to a two-state solution.
The campaign began with a tongue-in-cheek animated video that parodies the Schoolhouse Rock song “I’m Just a Bill.” It follows George, a dollar bill placed in a JNF pushke by a bat mitzvah girl, as he travels through Israel. Though he is determined to stay inside the Green Line, George finds JNF taking him to the settlements. The video asks JNF to commit to the “Moses Standard.” Just as Moses gave a full accounting of all of the donations to the mishkan
(tabernacle), so, too, should Jewish organizations be transparent about where grants to Israel go. At that point, this information was not available on JNF-USA’s tax forms or website.
In May 2016, T’ruah put out a follow-up video. This, too, parodies a Schoolhouse Rock song (“Conjunction Junction”). It shows the impact of settlements on characters ranging from a Palestinian farmer and his school-age daughter to an Israeli soldier risking his life to defend settlements.
Almost 40,000 Jewish community members watched the two videos, which prompted many to write and call local JNF offices to demand transparency in funding.
Feeling the pressure of community scrutiny, JNF began to respond. First, in an interview with Ha’aretz, Russell Robinson, the CEO of JNF-USA, admitted to settlement funding, saying “We only do projects within consensus areas of Israel, like Ma’alei Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion.” (All three are areas in the West Bank.) In addition, he began responding individually to T’ruah supporters, and even got into extended email conversations with many of them.
The real victory for transparency came later in 2016. As a result of requests by T’ruah supporters, JNF released a list of their projects, including information about how much money flows to settlements.
In a second major victory, as a result of a complaint T’ruah filed the previous year, the IRS investigated the Israeli organization Honenu and its U.S. fiscal sponsor, the Central Fund of Israel.
Honenu bills itself as a legal services organization for Israelis accused of terrorism against Palestinians, but at the time of the investigation it was also giving no-strings-attached financial support to Israelis convicted of terrorism. Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, received cash payments from Honenu for years, as did Ami Popper, who killed seven Palestinians at a bus stop in 1990.
Following the IRS investigation, the Central Fund of Israel temporarily cut off support for Honenu and resumed that support only after the group had ceased its direct payments to terrorists.
T’ruah has now taken the complaint to the federal level by asking the Department of Justice and the IRS to look into the use of tax-exempt dollars as material support for terrorists. As a result of T’ruah’s complaint, Honenu “has stopped providing support to the families of Jews suspected or convicted of violent, nationalistically-motivated crimes, which usually target Palestinian civilians.” (Ha’aretz, May 5, 2016).
T’ruah has been the only rabbinic organization in North America to take on the crisis facing the roughly 50,000 African asylum seekers in Israel. These men and women are being forced to choose between deportation and detention, as Israel does not have a functioning asylum system.
T’ruah’s work on this issue includes arranging meetings between asylum seekers and the rabbinical students in our year-long human rights program in Israel, and using social media to support efforts by asylum seekers to legalize their status.
T’ruah has been the strongest North American rabbinic voice supporting the right of Bedouin Israelis in the Negev to have a voice in government decisions about their future.
In 2013-2014, T’ruah worked with a coalition of Bedouin and human rights groups to defeat the Prawer-Begin plan, which would have moved about 20,000 Bedouin from their homes into urban areas.
More recently, T’ruah and the coalition have refocused on putting forward a plan for self-determination developed in partnership with the Bedouin, together with the planning organization Bimkom. As the issue has mostly stalled in Knesset, T’ruah is determining the best way to push this issue forward.
In the meantime, T’ruah is focusing on educating Jewish communities in the U.S. about issues facing the Bedouin, while also following legislation in Israel and acting as appropriate with our Israeli partners.