The Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Canada made headlines in Canadian media outlets Friday following allegations by local tax authorities claiming the Jewish charity funded IDF projects with donations collected in Canada.
Although Canadian law doesn't prohibit citizens from donating money to the IDF through Israel’s Ministry of Defense, it does ban tax-exempt charities from assisting foreign armies and prohibits donors from claiming tax deductions for such donations.
According to reports in the Canadian media, JNF used its donation to fund Gadna (an Israeli military program that prepares youth for military service) and Education Corps programs at the IDF military base in Kibbutz Sde Boker, the former Negev home of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
The JNF rejected these claims, CBS News reported, and said the organization had funded IDF projects in the past. The charity said it had stopped funding in 2016, after it became clear that it was against the law.
Megan McKenzie, a professional mediator and conflict consultant, told CBS news she was "dumbfounded" when she discovered the JNF, a charity known for its tree-planting projects, was funding projects for the Israeli army. "I have a PhD and I'm sort of a natural researcher and so I did some online research… the more I did, the more appalled I was," she said.
McKenzie soon discovered that the charity also funded IDF projects beyond the Green Line. Ismail Zayid, a Canadian resident who grew up in Beit Nuba, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, told CBS that over the past 40 years, he had filed numerous complaints against the JNF, but Canadian tax authorities refuse to reveal any information.
"They would say they are conducting an investigation of the complaint. Then I would write again and say, 'What are the findings of your investigation?' And they would say, 'The findings are confidential," Zayid told CBS.
Among the information presented to Canadian tax authorities were documents detailing a JNF donation campaign for the construction of a "meeting point" for IDF soldiers and family members in an Israeli army base.
JNF also raised money for the construction of a security road in Kadesh Barne'a (also known as Nitzanei Sinai), a moshav near the Egyptian border, to help security forces move around the area, patrol the border zones, and enhance military activity.
The Canadian JNF branch said these donations helped improve the lives of Israeli citizens, and that the army's involvement in these projects was indirect.
"In keeping with our mission of improving the quality of lives of Israelis, we have in the past funded projects of a charitable nature that indirectly involved the IDF. These projects were built on land owned by the IDF primarily for the benefit of children and youth. When it came to our attention several years ago that supporting these types of projects may not be in keeping with CRA (local tax authorities) policies, we stopped funding them," JNF Canada's CEO Lance Davis said in an email to CBC News.
Davis added that the last IDF project funded by the charity was in 2016, and "it was directed to the Hatzerim Airforce Base for a playground for the children living on the base."