When I heard late last summer that my name appears on a list of “sonei Yisrael” (“haters of Israel”) banned from a Jerusalem youth hostel, I laughed. I love Israel and visit often, but I haven’t stayed at a hostel in decades. Besides, I was in good company: Other names on the list included former U.S. ambassadors Daniel Kurtzer and Daniel Shapiro, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and the entire staff of CNN.
But there is nothing funny about the youth hostel in question. Visitors to the Jerusalem Heritage House say it openly promotes the extremist teachings of Meir Kahane, the late U.S.-born rabbi who preached — and directed — terrorism against those he viewed as enemies of Israel or the Jewish people, and who advocated the forced expulsion of Palestinians from territory Israel controlled. Worse, U.S. donors enjoy tax deductions for their contributions to the hostel. That means American taxpayers are subsidizing the radicalization of hostel guests — primarily young American backpackers.
Kahane’s tactics have rightfully been rejected by the vast majority of Jews in Israel and elsewhere. In response to a questioner who asserted that killing any Palestinian should be viewed as self-defense, Haim David HaLevi, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, wrote, “I am entirely astounded by the foolish idea that we should see in this light a million and a half Arabs. . . just because there are some. . . who do hurt us and come to kill us. Because of this tiny minority would we decree death on a million and a half human beings?”
But U.S.-based nonprofits still send millions of dollars a year in tax-deductible contributions to organizations that espouse Kahane’s ideology. The Heritage House is supported heavily by Jewish Heritage Movement, a Staten Island-based tax-exempt organization. Two other organizations also fund Kahanist groups: American Friends of Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi (the “Jewish idea” yeshiva), an educational institution founded by Kahane that features his videos and writings in its teachings; and the Central Fund of Israel , which says it sends donations from the United States to 300 different charities in Israel. Some of those organizations, though, are led by Kahane proteges committed to carrying out his legacy. These include Honenu, which describes itself as “an Israeli Zionist legal aid organization” for people who “find themselves in legal entanglements due to defending themselves against Arab aggression, or due to their love for Israel,” but which Israeli news organizations have reported also has made cash payments to Israelis convicted of terrorism and to their families; and Hemla, which has issued promotional materials saying it aims to “save” Jewish women who are “at risk of” forced conversion from intermarrying with Palestinians.
So last year, T’ruah — the rabbinical organization I lead — submitted a complaint to the IRS regarding Jewish Heritage Movement over its fundraising for the Heritage House. We also filed a complaint about the tax-exempt status of the Central Fund and American Friends of Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi. The U.S. fundraising vehicles named in our complaint send between $20 million and $23 million per year to far-right organizations in Israel, including many that directly identify with Kahane. All of us who pay taxes subsidize these grants. In late December, the IRS acknowledged receipt of our complaint, though by law, the agency cannot disclose whether an investigation has begun.
Contacted by The Washington Post, each of these organizations said that the IRS complaints were without merit and that they don’t violate laws in the United States or Israel. “I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly ridiculous and disingenuous these absurd accusations are,” said Ben Packer, director and “supreme commander” of the Jerusalem Heritage House. “We are a Jewish outreach organization working with a wide cross section of Jewish youth toward a strengthening of their Jewish identity, similar to many other Jewish outreach organizations.” A representative of Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi, Levi Chazen, said that “like all other yeshivot, our focus is on education and studying the text of our forefathers,” and that “some 20 years ago, after the murder of Rabbi Kahane, the IRS and the FBI investigated the American Friends account and found that we have no links whatsoever to any illegal activities.” Jay Marcus, of the Central Fund of Israel, said that his group is “probably one of the best charities in the world, and there’s really nothing to talk about” and that “we don’t give to any place that’s connected to Meier Kahane at all.” Packer suggested that filing the IRS complaint was “reckless” and could lead to “serious legal ramifications.”
No Jewish organization or leader should bestow any honor on Kahane, who was convicted of domestic terrorism in the United States 47 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kahane and his followers in the Jewish Defense League were tied to bombings of Palestinian, Egyptian and Soviet diplomatic and cultural targets, as well as plots to kidnap Soviet diplomats and to bomb the Iraqi Embassy in Washington. In 1972, a JDL bombing in New York killed a 27-year-old Jewish woman, Iris Kones . In 1988, Israel barred Kahane’s party from Knesset elections because of his racist and anti-democratic ideology, though the party has petitioned — so far unsuccessfully — to be legalized again for this year’s elections.
Kahane was assassinated in 1990 by an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen later convicted of planning a follow-up to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Four years after Kahane’s killing, Israel outlawed Kach, the political party he established, as well as Kahane Chai, an organization founded after his death . The State Department declared both to be foreign terrorist organizations in 1997.
Naturally, then, some young backpackers staying at the Jerusalem Heritage House have been surprised to discover portraits of Kahane displayed there and to be offered literature by and about him. Packer, the hostel’s director, regularly posts tributes to Kahane on his Facebook page. In one, Packer concludes with a Hebrew abbreviation meaning “May God avenge his blood,” often invoked as a call for vigilantism.
The other groups named in our complaint have direct ties to Kahane. Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi, founded by Kahane, defines its mission as “producing students in the mold of ‘King David’, who rose by night to study Torah and write Psalms, and then by day to lead his people in battle against the enemies of the Jewish nation.” The website features footage of Kahane’s speeches, along with a tribute video extolling his righteousness and declaring that “never will there be a better man.”
Several Kahane disciples teach at the yeshiva. They include Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of the Kach party who was denied a U.S. visa in 2012 based on the State Department’s “prerogative to ban terrorists from entering the country,” as the Israeli news organization Haaretz wrote; Ben-Zion “Bentzi” Gopstein , a student of Kahane who has been arrested multiple times in Israel for incitement and terrorism, though he’s never been convicted; and Kahane’s son Baruch Kahane, an activist with the Temple Institute, which seeks to build the Third Temple in Jerusalem — an act that would require tearing down the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
According to Haaretz, one of the Central Fund’s beneficiaries, Hemla, also has connections to Lehava, a group led by Gopstein. The group’s name is both a Hebrew word for “flame” and an acronym for “preventing assimilation in the Holy Land.” The group is best known for violence against Palestinians and members of the Israeli left, intimidating Jews who hire or rent to Palestinians or other non-Jews and attempting to break up intermarriages or gatherings that bring together Jews and Palestinians. In 2015, then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon made a failed attempt to outlaw Lehava as a terrorist organization.
In response to an earlier tip from T’ruah, in 2016, the IRS investigated the Central Fund of Israel, the largest group in our recent complaint, for its funding of Honenu. Recipients of Honenu’s payments have included the wives of Ami Popper , who murdered seven Palestinians in 1990, and of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Haaretz reported that the IRS temporarily restricted the Central Fund from making grants to Honenu in 2016. But those grants have resumed: Honenu’s websites in the United States and Israel direct American donors to send checks to the Central Fund. The U.S. website notes that contributions through the Central Fund “are allocated to providing legal defense only & not for other purposes,” but the Israeli page has no such language. (Marcus told The Post that “we certainly do give to Honenu” and that the group is “like the ACLU — they’re a legal aid fund, and they help people who don’t have lawyers who need lawyers. I presume if we do give to them that they have nothing to do with Meir Kahane.”)
Section 501(p) of the U.S. tax code asserts that “an organization’s tax exempt status will be suspended upon proof that it is engaged in terrorist activities.” The IRS takes its definition of “terrorist” from the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lays out a wide scope of violent activities that constitute terrorism and includes indirect support for terrorism — such as providing material support, soliciting others to take part in terrorist activities or raising money for terrorist groups. Significantly, this definition relates to any group that engages in terrorist activity, whether or not the State Department has officially designated it as a “foreign terrorist organization.”
The State Department has already declared Kach and Kahane Chai to be foreign terrorist organizations. Groups like Lehava, Heritage House and Honenu — run by much of the same leadership and with the same rhetoric and tactics — should fall into the same category. Which means the IRS should strip U.S.-based organizations raising money for these groups of their tax-exempt status.
Those of us who support Israel often complain about the Palestinian Authority’s payments to families of terrorists, including some who have carried out horrific and fatal attacks on Israeli citizens. We must speak just as loudly against the funding of terrorism and incitement by Israeli extremists, especially when American taxpayers finance these activities through subsidies of tax-exempt organizations.
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