In a perfect world, no country would need a military. Countries and people would live in peace; the kingdom of heaven, as promised by almost every religion, at last realized.
As ideal as that wish might be for the first editorial of a new secular year, it remains true that countries need militaries. Places like Canada, which have not been forced to wage war on home turf in 205 years, nevertheless maintain a military, with our soldiers serving various roles around the globe.
In Israel, on the other hand, the military is the one thing standing between the country’s citizens and oblivion. Like the militaries of every country, the Israel Defence Forces protects the country’s borders and citizens from external and internal threats. More controversially, as a result of Israel’s complicated history, the IDF also controls parts of the West Bank under a military rule that is the cause of much international criticism.
Some of this criticism comes from Canada, including from a Palestinian-Canadian, Ismail Zayid, who has been complaining for years to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) over his assertions that the Jewish National Fund of Canada has been in contravention of Canadian tax law for providing material support to the IDF.
Well, it’s more than assertions, actually. In stories splashed across Canadian media last weekend, there is plenty of evidence that JNF Canada was, until 2016, openly fundraising for projects that support infrastructure projects on Israeli army, air and naval bases. These include a “new planned IDF Training Base City in the Negev,” “helping the development of the Bat Galim training base complex area” and new mess hall-type facilities at two air bases. Funds raised at Edmonton’s Negev Dinner in 2014 were explicitly and openly allocated to developing parts of the largest military training facility in Israel.
In October 2017, according to the CBC, Zayid filed another complaint to CRA “in concert with an Ottawa professor, a Vancouver rabbi and a retired nurse.” The complaint is that JNF was ignoring rules that forbid Canadian charities from issuing tax receipts for contributions that go toward foreign militaries. CRA would not confirm details of the investigation to the CBC and JNF said only that they are engaged in confidential negotiations with CRA.
There is nothing stopping any Canadian from sending a cheque to Israel’s Ministry of Defence, news reports noted, but rules forbid doing so via a charity that provides tax receipts for it. This is admirable policy. Even if some Canadians would be perfectly happy seeing our tax policy support the IDF, would we be as pleased to see tax receipts issued for funds directed to the militaries of other countries with whom we don’t have as good a relationship?
Whatever one thinks about the morality of the IDF or its presence in the West Bank, the JNF appears to have made a naive or foolish mistake – not once but apparently about a dozen times. The head of JNF Canada said they stopped funding IDF projects after CRA alerted them to the issue in 2016. But how could an organization of this calibre have done so for so long, especially when it knew there were a series of complaints being lodged regularly around this very topic?
Since 1948, countless Jewish Canadians have supported Israel, including its military, in myriad ways. For four generations, young Jewish Canadians have enlisted, even in times of war, to serve in the IDF. Canadians of all ages have volunteered in the various roles the IDF offers to overseas friends of Israel. Most Jewish Canadians recognize the life-and-death necessity of a strong Israel, supported by a strong IDF.
The Jewish National Fund is the reason Israel is the only country on the planet that ended the 20th century with more trees than when the century started. Beyond reforestation, the number of extraordinary initiatives JNF carries out all over Israel makes it an integral part of the Zionist project. Israel is Israel, in large part, thanks to JNF.
Because of JNF’s critical importance, Canadian supporters must be confident that our support is going to an organization that is transparent and scrupulously adhering to relevant regulations. To ensure that the irreplaceable work the JNF does in Israel does not waver, JNF Canada must ensure that Canadians trust the decisions and leadership of the national organization.