New York law aims to stop funding of illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank
State assembly member introduced law to prohibit tax-deductible donations from being used to expel Palestinians from their land
New York’s state assembly is to consider legislation to stop registered charities from sending tens of millions of dollars a year to fund illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
State assembly member Zohran Mamdani has introduced the “Not on our dime!: Ending New York funding of Israeli settler violence” act to prohibit tax-deductible donations from being used to expel Palestinians from their land and other activities widely regarded as war crimes under the Geneva conventions.
The United Nations security council has called Israeli settlement construction “a flagrant violation under international law”.
“This legislation makes it clear that New York will no longer effectively subsidise war crimes and the flouting of international law,” Mamdani told the Guardian.
“What we have is a number of New York state-registered charities that are sending at least $60m a year to Israeli settlement organisations which then use that funding to continue the history of expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians in the occupied territories that has been going on for decades.”
The bill was denounced by some other members of the legislature who characterised it as an attack on charities that provide care for victims of terrorism and clothe orphans.
“The bill is a ploy to demonise Jewish charities with connection to Israel. It was only introduced to antagonise pro-Israel New Yorkers and sow divisions within the Democratic Party,” they said in a statement that did not make mention of settlements.
The legislation is backed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace among others. Vince Warren, CCR’s director, said: “Aiding and abetting war crimes is not charitable, period. This bill goes a long way toward ensuring that New York is not inadvertently subsidising war crimes, but rather creating paths for accountability.”
Mamdani named several New York-based organisations as targets for the law including the Central Fund of Israel which describes itself as “promoting charitable causes in Israel”. CFI makes specific mention of its money going to the “land of Israel” which is often used to refer to the occupied territories as well as the state of Israel.
The CFI disperses donations to an array of settler organisations including the Israel Land Fund responsible for the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers.
Another US group, Friends of Ir David, funds Elad, an Israeli settler organisation responsible for the forced removal of Palestinians as it seeks to “Judaise” occupied East Jerusalem.
“These organisations masquerade as charities while funding illegal activities,” said Mamdani.
In 2015, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that at least 50 organisations across the US were involved in fundraising for Israeli settlements. Haaretz said some of the money also went “toward providing legal aid to Jews accused or convicted of terrorism, and supporting their families” through a “legal aid society” called Honenu.
“Among those who benefited from the group’s support in 2013 were the family of Ami Popper, who murdered seven Palestinian laborers in 1990, and members of the Bat Ayin Underground, which attempted to detonate a bomb at a girls’ school in East Jerusalem in 2002,” Haaretz reported.
The proposed legislation would give New York state’s attorney general the power to sue groups funding settlements. It would also give Palestinians harmed by settler organisations funded by New York-based charities the right to seek damages in American courts.
Mamdani said that explicit legislation is necessary because, while there may be other laws on the books that could be used to prevent Americans funding illegal activities abroad, the politics of support for Israel in the US means they have not been applied.
“There’s a phrase that I grew up hearing: PEP, progressive except Palestine. You’d see how time and again how politicians who espoused universal beliefs would always seem to find an exception when it came to the question of Israel and Palestine. We see that sadly in terms of how our laws are applied in terms of how our policies are applied. What this legislation does is it reckons with reality,” he said.
For that reason, Mamdani acknowledges he will struggle to get the law passed at this time. But he said successive US presidents have opposed settlement expansion and public opinion is increasingly shifting toward support for the Palestinians.
“I think it will be a long fight. I do not have any illusions. But if you look at the attitudes of Americans towards Palestine and towards Israel, and specifically to the question of settlements, it is very clear that this is also a fight that is broadly popular,” he said.
The Central Fund of Israel and Friends of Ir David have been asked for comment.
Photo on front page: New York State capitol building, Albany, New York. Source: Wikipedia. Photo on this page: Assembly member Zohran Mamdani at a rally calls on mayor to provide more stable housing for asylum seekers, on 13 October 2022, in New York City. Source: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images.