The tangled web of Israel's extreme right, American Jewry and the US terror blacklist
Former MK Michael Ben-Ari, who heads Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and could return to Knesset thanks to a Netanyahu-blessed union with Jewish Home, has ties to non-governmental organizations linked to Meir Kahane's Kach Movement, outlawed in Israel and on US Treasury and State Department blacklists; to make matters worse, some of these NGOs get their funding from US Jews.
There were quite a few smiles in the Jewish Home party, the most moderate of the right-wing religious-Zionist factions, after most of its members voted in favor of teaming up with Ozma Yehudit (Jewish Power) in the upcoming April 9 elections. And thus in an almost off-hand manner, these politicians de facto joined forces with former members of Kach—a racist movement outlawed in Israel and featured on the list of terror organizations at both the US State Department and the US Treasury.
US Jews were quick to express their shock and outrage over the union and the involvement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who put a lot of pressure on both sides and even made concessions of his own to make it happen.
Over the weekend, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) issued harsh condemnation of the move, perhaps unaware that some of the funding for the organizations that succeeded Kach — with former members now directly linked to Otzma Yehudit —comes from US Jews, seemingly in violation of American anti-terror laws.
The Kach Movement, which was established by Rabbi Meir Kahane, and its younger sister organization Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives), which was founded after Kahane's murder, were both outlawed in Israel following a terror attack carried out by Kach member Baruch Goldstein exactly 25 years ago, when he murdered 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.
But since then, members of Kach have continued operating in different NGOs and organizations, in seemingly legitimate ways, and recently also returned to the political field in the form of Otzma Yehudit.
One of the key players in this story is Ben-Zion "Benzi" Gopstein, the head of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization (which is not a registered organization). Behind Lehava hides a network of other organizations, in which Gopstein allegedly has or had direct involvement.
Under Gopstein's leadership, Lahava leads a racist and inciting line against Israeli minorities. Four years ago, when he was serving as defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon considered declaring Lehava a terror organization. In November 2017, the State Prosecutor's Office recommended charging Gopstein with incitement, and the case is now awaiting a decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The first organization with which Gopstein's name is linked is "Hemla" (Compassion)—an NGO that purports to aid young women from broken homes who are "at risk of assimilation," a euphemism for marrying Arab men. Shortly after Gopstein became involved with the organization, it started receiving a regular budget of hundreds of thousands of shekels from the Welfare Ministry, which the NGO uses to operate a hostel in Jerusalem for "at-risk" women and teenage girls.
A 2014 investigative report already found many connections between Hemla and former Kahane activists. For example, Baruch Ben-Yosef, who founded an association seeking to remove Kach from the terror organizations list, received funding from Hemla. A member of Hemla's committee, Elyakim Neiman, also serves as the chairman of Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi, a Jerusalem seminary founded by Meir Kahane that is still considered a terror organization by the United States. Neiman is also among the founders of The Fund to Save the People of Israel, and when we sought to donate to Lehava, we were directed by Gopstein himself to The Fund to Save the People of Israel.
Gopstein was a paid employee of Hemla, working as a "lead PR in Israel"; he was also an authorized signatory at the NGO, alongside Elyakim Neiman. According to the NGO's records, Gopstein was fired (although he says he quit), but it was nevertheless decided to "continue employing him for his assistance in raising funds for a probationary period," which has since ended.
Who funds Hemla? Other than the Welfare Ministry, which in 2016 transferred over NIS 1 million to the NGO, we were able to uncover several other financers, such as the estate of the late Miriam Orin, the Love of Israel Fund, the "Your People's Poor Fund," and the Central Fund of Israel—an American fund headed by Jay Marcus.
The Central Fund of Israel, which doesn't make its list of beneficiaries public, donated almost NIS 100,000 to Hemla in 2015, and tens of thousands of shekels in 2014. Many of the Americans who donated to the fund—both directly and indirectly—don't know where the money eventually goes.
Another American organization that gives money to Hemla is the Traditional Fund, which also donates to a variety of right-wing organizations in Israel.
The Jewish idea
The second organization in the massive network is Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi (the Jewish Idea Yeshiva), which is listed as an NGO and was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1987 to spread his teachings. In addition to Kahane himself, other founders include Moshe Neiman, Michael Ben-Ari, Tiran Pollack, Gad Struman, Yekutiel (Mike) Ben-Yaakov and Baruch Marzel. The president of the yeshiva is Yehuda Kroizer and the CEO is Elyakim Neiman.
According to records from June 2018, Ben-Ari was a member of the audit committee of the NGO, which to this day remains on the US terror organizations list. In other words, it is illegal to donate to the organization, and Michael Ben-Ari, who could become a member of Israel's parliament, is allegedly a member of an NGO on the US terror list.
From 2002 to 2005, the NGO reported the grants it gave out, with one of the main beneficiaries being Benzi Gopstein, whose wife Anat was a paid employee of the organization. In 2002, Gopstein got NIS 24,000 from the NGO, in 2004 the sum went up to NIS 26,000 and in 2005 it went back to NIS 24,000.
According to official records, Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi is funded by different American donors, among them two US organizations. The first is Charity of Light, a tax-exempt NGO that was first registered in New Jersey in 2001. Five years later, it became the Charity of Light – Hemla Fund. At the time, the NGO's chairman was Levi Hazan, a known Kahanist who was sentenced to prison for his part in a 1984 shooting of a bus north of Ramallah, which left six Palestinians wounded.
The very same Hazan also appeared in the Israeli NGO Hemla's records as a PR employee working abroad. Among the donors who gave money to this charity over the years is the Charitable Foundation of the IDT Corporation, an American telecommunications company founded by known Likud and Netanyahu donor Howard Jonas.
The second US donor organization is the American Friends of Yeshivat HaRaayon, an NGO registered in 1991 in Skokie, Illinois, which raises funds for Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi, despite the fact that the latter is on the US terror list. A possible loophole allowing donations is the NGO's use of the yeshiva's Hebrew name, rather than the English translation that appears in the US terror lists.
As of 2015, Levi Hazan was this NGO's director as well. According to the NGO's records, from 2011 the organization donated to Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi sums ranging between $44,000 and $136,000 every year. This too is seemingly a criminal offense violating three different prohibitions on funding for terror organizations.
"There are different definitions within the State Department's list of terror organizations," says David Saperstein, a former senior State Department official. "The leaders of the organizations on the list are subject to all of the limitations of the law. Donors to these organizations are breaking the law and are subject to criminal sanctions, even if they don't know where the money they donated went to."
'Price tag' situation room
The next organization is Chasdei Meir, which is headed by Gopstein himself, according to different reports. Our investigation found no evidence the organization is registered in Israel, only in the United States. When we called the phone number the organization lists for donations, the woman who answered the phone gave us the bank account number and PO box belonging to the NGO "Hemla - Aid for the Needy." Later, we learned we could also donate to the organization through Hemla's donations center.
This isn't a trivial matter. Unlike Hemla, which seemingly only aids needy women, Chasdei Meir is an organization that aids "residents of the hilltops." According to past reports, Chasdei Meir was part of the "price tag" vandalism situation room, which was established in 2011 to avenge the demolition of structures in the illegal West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad. The organization's activity includes fundraising for the Hilltop Youth organization of extremist settlers, as well as planting trees near settlements and hills in the West Bank.
In 2010, Gopstein himself was quoted by Haaretz, saying "We have a group called the Chasdei Meir Charity Fund, which helps the outposts." In a video Gopstein posted online in the past, he called for donations for Chasdei Meir to benefit activities in the West Bank.
The Chasdei Meir website was registered by Levi Hazan, and an examination of the organization's funding sources found it raises tax-exempt funds in the US through Charity of Light. Conversely, the PO box and fax number on Chasdei Meir's website belong to the HaRaayon HaYehudi NGO. An older version of the site included an address in the US, which is the same as the address listed for HaRaayon HaYehudi and Charity of Light.
The next NGO, The Fund to Save the People of Israel, was registered in 2011. Its declared objectives include the "fight against the phenomenon of assimilation; activity to benefit the victims of infiltrators and illegal migrant workers; activity and humanitarian aid; strengthening the settlement enterprise and the hold on the Land of Israel; legal assistance."
The NGO's founders are Elyakim Neiman, Yaron Adler, Israel Diskind, Ayala Ben-Gvir (Itamar Ben-Gvir's wife), Benzi Gopstein, Levi Hazan and Matilda Harutz. According to its general assembly's records from May 2018, Gopstein is an authorized signatory in the organization and is defined as the "NGO's operator," grossing NIS 66,764 annually.
The NGO's email address is the same one that appeared in Chasdei Meir's website—Gopstein's personal email. One of the fund's audit committee members was Yitzhak Gabbai, who was convicted and imprisoned for three years for his part in the arson attack at the Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem.
As of 2016, the NGO's incoming donations stood at some NIS 260,000 a year; among its donors over the years we found the Eretz Yisrael Shelanu Party (a far-right religious party founded by Baruch Marzel and Shalom Dov Wolpo), as well as the Segal Foundation for Israel, which was criticized by Israel's Registrar of Associations for failing to do anything to reach its objectives.
'Our fight is legal'
"Since the Kach Movement was outlawed, Kahane's ideological successors have developed new systems to operate and get funding," says Ran Cohen, one of the founders of the Democratic Bloc organization. "If they previously relied on political mechanisms, today they are using a network of NGOs that pose as charity and social organizations. In reality, they raise funds—both in Israel and abroad—to continue to incite and undermine the foundations of democracy. Money transferred from the state to such organizations is only one example of the way the government whitewashes Kahanism. The biggest example recently was the fact Netanyahu worked to ensure Gopstein and Marzel's (Otzma Yehudit) party, which has Kahanist characteristics, gets into the Knesset."
Benzi Gopstein offered the following response to the report: "These are lies. The goal of this report is to once again try to bring down the right-wing rule and prevent Otzma Yehudit from getting into the next Knesset. This won't help; I will continue with the legal fight against assimilation in the Holy Land."
Michael Ben-Ari offered the following response: "This is a collection of fabrications that have already been published and disproven years ago. But when the goal is to bring down the right-wing rule, journalistic ethics are being trampled."
In an interesting coincidence, when we turned to the Hemla NGO for a response, we were directed to the Yeshiva HaRaayon HaYehudi call center.
Later, Hemla offered the following response: "For nearly 20 years, the NGO has been operating a hostel for at-risk Haredi teenage girls, who went through serious abuse (and you should know all about this topic), and with God's help we are able to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into society. The NGO deals with the social and rehabilitative field and has no ties to any political body.
"Benzi Gopstein finished working for the NGO in October 2014, and since then there have been no ties between him and Hemla - Aid for the Needy. Anat Gopstein finished working for the NGO in April 2015, and since then there have been no ties between her and the NGO. Unfortunately, the media has already slammed the holy work our dedicated staff does at the hostel several times, and we demand an end to dealing with this matter, which has been behind us for many years."
The Welfare Ministry offered the following response: "Hemla won a tender to operate a hostel for at-risk teenage girls from the Haredi sector, who are directed to social services in local authorities. The funding given to the NGO is for the operation of the hostel only."
Mairav Zonszein contributed to this story.