Israel is embroiled in a new debate, although this one is internal of sorts: Should Israel investigate the money trail of not-for-profit organizations, particularly those associated with the Left or the Extreme-Left?
The Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, has designated those who will be in charge of this national investigation. The idea burst a Pandora’s box wide open, and the sight is unpleasing.
The essence of the demand to investigate the financing of the activities of the Left Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) is the claim that money is channeled from foreign governments and other foreign entities that are opposed to Israel’s very existence, and thus the organizations, under the coat of a “human rights” heading, are actively pursuing the demise of the Jewish State.
The idea of an investigation might have sprouted from seeing one too many American movies, where we learned the only way to bring down the Mafia was to utilize the Internal Revenue Service and the Tax Code.
The Israeli implementation of this idea apparently took a life of its own, spread and mutated, and has managed to hit where it is most effective: right in the pocketbook.
It is exactly such an instance that exposes the nature of the beast to its fullest. Apparently there is much more than meets the eye.
No real action has been taken yet, and everyone is already up in arms. Right and left, demonstrations and opinions, a counter investigation and allegations ranging from the profane to the profound have been raised. The ruling elites, the media, judiciary and the academia have added their input to the mix, with emotions flaring up as if flammable material was sprinkled over the discourse.
A danger exists that Israel’s enemies will now add another claim against the Jewish State: It is no longer Democratic and it does not afford all the freedoms normally associated with the Western World. Should Israel care?
In the midst, or the height, of a delegitimization campaign against her very existence, Israel is already blamed for all the ills of the world, and the fact she is the only Democracy in the Middle East does not score her points in any argument. So add a few more lies to the mix. It is so potent already, that “McCarthyism” will not even amount to icing on the cake.
Expect to soon hear such rhetoric as: “Dark days are coming to Israel. Israel is launching an era of McCarthyism, chasing free-thinking liberals, trying to silence human rights activists from airing the truth.” This may soon be the new outcry heard throughout the world, and more: “Witch hunt against those trying to expose Israel’s War Crimes!”
Those trying to undermine the Jewish State from within have repeatedly used the argument that their actions are innocent and well-intentioned: They are trying to protect the “Jewish nature” of Israel’s democracy, for without two separate states, goes their argument, Israel will become a country of all its citizens and thus wither into oblivion.
Logic does not hold, for the very same maligners and their cohorts have already declared Israel’s being the only Jewish country in the world a racist proposition. Thus, why bother to protect the Jewish nature when it has to be eradicated, uprooted until it is left dead at the corner of the vast field of Arab states?
People rush to defend the ruling Left and Extreme-Left. “Why not investigate the Right and Extreme-Right,” they shout, going thousands-strong to the streets of Tel Aviv, their stronghold. They enlist top reporters to their aid, and the Israeli public is treated to a show of benevolent activities by Israel’s Left: oppose the Occupation, target the soldiers, avoid service, do whatever you can to end Israel’s atrocities.
Even the yarmulke-wearing Speaker of the Knesset came out in opposition to the decision to have an investigation lead by the Knesset. So who will investigate the money trail, the Judiciary whose left-leaning ideologies are more strongly pronounced than in all other branches of government?
Hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of millions of Euros flow regularly into Israel into the “third (not-for-profit) sector,” which plays a crucial role in the Israeli economy. Areas that the Government does not want to address, or is unable to due to budgetary constraints, are left to individual initiatives.
A special tax-exempt status is available in Israel, and likewise there is a special tax-exempt status in the United States. The money flows from good intentioned-Jews, philanthropists and foundations donating tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, to private individuals who donate small amounts of money. In the aggregate, this is very big business amounting to billions every year.
The money ends up in various projects in the “settlements” of Judea and Samaria and for Palestinian “non-violent resistance” in the “Occupied West Bank.” The money stream is supposed to be transparent, but apparently there is more than is seen by the naked eye.
I recall a meeting with the head of a major Israeli university that took place at the Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills. At one point during the hour and a half meeting, I took out the tax returns of the “American Friends of” and placed it on the table. The table was large, the president of the university was sitting directly across from me on the other end, and it seemed that I threw the booklets, each dozens of pages long, at her. I did not.
She was shocked, “how dare you,” she started, “and where did you get this information from?” she continued. Alas, it is the very Code that permits all these tens of millions of dollars to flow each year from the USA to Israel that dictate that the organization’s tax returns must be readily available so anyone can view them. By the very nature of their existence, non-profit organizations void any pretense of confidentiality.
I am reminded of a contentious local election in Beverly Hills. I served as the treasurer of a particular campaign committee, and part of the requirements, set forth in the law, was to record each donation to the campaign above a certain amount. Thus, any person could walk into the City Clerk’s office and view each donation, the source and the amount.
TRANSPARENCY is the name of the game, the “cost of doing business.”
The Israeli “Right” and “Extreme-Right” have no quarrel having their sources of funds examined, stated one of their leaders. One may even discover a certain amount of money that I contributed to an investigative journalist at a think tank to buy computer equipment, or a scholarship we bestowed on a student of photography at Israel’s premier art school. There may be other instances I have forgotten already, but they are all reported and readily available (even if my memory chooses to focus on other things).
Why would the Israeli “Left” and “Extreme-Left” be so up in arms against the investigation? In business, I long ago learned that I could sleep soundly at night since there is nothing I am trying to hide. Thus, whenever audited by any one of numerous government agencies, we go through the formalities, producing the required documents. We answer the questions posed to us and surprise ourselves time and again at how much information, and particularly well-compiled information, is at the government’s fingertips.
The only issue I have is the time wasted, or the bills that the CPA and other professionals will send us once an audit is complete. Nonetheless, it is the feeling of relief, once the results of the audit are provided, that make the experience worthwhile; until the next one. I think of a clean bill of health at an annual exam at our family doctor.
We can obviously live without such experiences and expenses, but we view them as the cost of doing business. I do not go about blaming the auditors for ill intentions or subject them to constant bickering and criticism. Rather, we fully cooperate.
Likewise, throughout my years of travel for business, I was almost without exception stopped by Customs. I do not know if it could be attributed to my age or outward appearance of innocence, but apparently I was profiled more often than not to be a smuggler. Alcohol, drugs …?
Was it convenient, to be stopped every single time? It was not, but soon enough I started treating it with a light laughter; it was bound to happen, so I might as well enjoy it. On the rare occasions I was not targeted or pulled out of line, it became major news for me, and a story to be told upon my return.
I am reminded of one particular trip from Boston to Los Angeles, less than two years after the September 11th attacks. I was taken to a separate line for a very special screening. Here it was security (my Middle Eastern look or South European accent), not smuggling, and when it was over I went to look for the other members of my party. They were still standing in the original line. You see, there are always privileges associated with special treatment.
Would I cry foul every time our company was targeted for an audit or whenever I was stopped upon arrival at an international destination or back home to the United States from Latin America or from Beijing, China? Rather than being sarcastic or angry, I fully cooperated, knowing I have nothing to hide.
Why would an investigation into the sources of funds of the Left and Extreme-Left in Israel be construed as a “dark day for democracy” and “fascism of the worst kind” according to some members of the Knesset? If there is nothing to hide, and given that the law requires full transparency, these organizations should welcome the scrutiny.
There are issues of legality and others of appearance. For instance, there was recently a compilation of what top executives of American non-profit organizations take home very year. The sums ranged from the low 100s to the high 700s. I find these sums exorbitant, since I always think of how it would take 7,500 individual donations at $100 each to pay the salary of someone who thinks it is appropriate and deserving to sit on a $750,000 annual salary. In fact, it would take many more donations, since there are taxes that have to be paid along with various other benefits. This is simply outrageous.
Then there are issues of legality: In the USA, we cannot contribute money to known terrorist organizations or to countries deemed by the USA as part of the axis of evil (North Korea and Iran). If we give the money to a non-profit front that then transfers the funds to Iran, North Korea, Hamas or Hezbollah, the US authorities will eventually have a just cause against that “charity.”
Likewise in Israel, if Left and Extreme-Left organizations are a front for receiving money from enemy countries or for channeling the money to acts against the State, then the flow of money must be stopped and those involved be brought to justice. They must receive an auditing and a judgment, not a tax break.
Is the public outcry from the Left an indication that something is rotten in the State of Denmark? Regrettably, much of the dissent to Israel’s very existence stems today from elitist circles, and Denmark, like her Scandinavian neighbors, is a hornet’s nest of blood libels against the Jewish State and a hub of anti-Semitic activities.
The actions and dissatisfaction shown so forcefully in Israel today, as well as the fear of McCarthyism, is unjustified. Rather, it is clearly indicative there is much to hide, something ugly and repulsive. The Left and Extreme-Left are being exposed for what they are: Their “liberal” ideas are only good so far as they are applied against Israel, never in equal measure toward Israel *and* her enemies.
Many, probably most but not all, are agents of discord and dissent, representing foreign powers and agendas aimed to destroy the Jewish State from within. Would a McCarthy style witch-hunt serve to uncover these evildoers, or perhaps force them further underground while rational people are accused and harassed? Is this what happened in the McCarthy era? Or did the House Un-American Activities Committee serve to scare off the perpetrators while they also sullied their own reputations and those of some innocents?
Is a money trail that is so much easier to follow today, not verifiable proof enough of perpetrators than was available in the McCarthy era? Would this not diminish the numbers of accused leaving only the real culprits to be exposed?
We will continue following closely the convening, reaction to and findings of the Knesset investigation committee. Those who have nothing to hide should not worry. They may be slightly inconvenienced, but that is a small token to pay for the tens of millions they receive each year under a tax-exempt status.
Will the investigation itself cast a bit of tarnish on the innocent? Is there a way to avoid these repercussions or is it the ugly cost of doing business in a world adept at skillfully hiding evil motives? I revert to my underlying supposition: If one has nothing to hide, one should not be afraid.
There is much at stake, including financially. If one wanted to be “fair,” the Knesset should pass a law that ALL FOREIGN MONEY is prohibited, right, left or middle. Except the opposition for such an act would be uniform across the board and there is simply too much money at risk.
Israel once again will serve as a laboratory. Based on the results there, possibly our own tax code will have to be changed, allowing a tax-exempt status only for those purposes here in the USA. Why would a person or a corporation enjoy tax benefits from transferring funds overseas?
It is something to think about.