Co-authored by Neil Strauss
While President Obama tries to persuade Israel to stop constructing illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, some Americans are working hard to expand and entrench the Israeli occupation. The Hebron Fund and dozens of other tax-exempt nonprofit organizations raise funds in the United States and send them overseas to expand and develop the settlements in order to make a Palestinian state impossible. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently reported that "A search of IRS records identified 28 U.S. charitable groups that made a total of $33.4 million in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organizations between 2004 and 2007." Although they do not meet the Internal Revenue Service's criteria for tax exemption, they have nevertheless been awarded 501(c)(3) status, which means that their activities are subsidized by the American taxpayer.
On November 21, hundreds of supporters will pay $300 a plate to attend the Hebron Fund's annual dinner at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. Sitting in the Caesar's Club above the field, the attendees will enjoy a reception, buffet, and Viennese table, and toast the evening's main awardee, Noam Arnon, an outspoken supporter of settler terrorism. In 1990 Arnon praised the Jewish terrorists who killed three Palestinians, and planted bombs that maimed the mayors of two Palestinian cities, and has slandered Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli soldiers that published Israeli soldiers' narratives of violence and racism by Hebron's settlers, calling it an organization of anti-Semites and supporters of Islamic terrorism.
Eleven peace and civil rights organizations, including the Arab-American and Jewish-American organizations that we represent, have asked the Mets to cancel the fundraiser, which benefits Hebron and probably the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. Along with all the other settlements, these two armed encampments have been acknowledged as illegal by the United States, the United Nations, and the International Court of Justice. Because there are virtually no Palestinian residents in these settlements, they are also racially discriminatory. Settlers are frequently involved in racially-motivated violence and property destruction. But Hebron and Kiryat Arba are in a class of their own when it comes to terrorizing and harassing Palestinians.
Kiryat Arba was the home of Baruch Goldstein, the New York-born terrorist who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron during Ramadan prayers. Goldstein's grave in Hebron is a pilgrimage site for settler extremists. Yigal Amir, who murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 to the rejoicing of many of the settlers, credited Goldstein as his inspiration. He came up with the idea, he said, at Goldstein's funeral procession.
The Hebron settlers' violence continues to the modern day, with international peacekeepers, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, and even Israeli soldiers documenting frequent and horrific abuses of defenseless Palestinians. The situation has become so bad that Palestinians living or working near the settlement have abandoned their homes and businesses, turning a previously bustling area into a ghost town.
Where do the millions of dollars raised in the United States by the Hebron Fund go? The organization does not publicize details, but it does brag in its publicity materials about its support for illegal purposes, such as "establishing facts on the ground," which is code for settling Jewish Israelis on occupied Palestinian land, or otherwise prejudicing peace negotiations by creating obstacles to Israeli withdrawal.
The greatest irony in all this is that the Caesar's Club is located above the rotunda named for Jackie Robinson, baseball's greatest civil rights hero, who stood for everything that the Hebron Fund stands against: equality, human dignityand respect for all people. In the face of racist slurs and violent threats of the kind meted out by Hebron's settlers, Jackie Robinson stood tall and through his athletic ability and humanity, prevailed. The Mets franchise actively promotes Robinson's nine values, including "Justice: Treating all people fairly, no matter who they are."
The Mets should act in the spirit of Jackie Robinson and cancel the Hebron Fund fundraiser. There is no question that if Palestinians attempted to hold an analogous fundraiser, it would have long since been shut down. We urge the US government to examine the appropriateness of US non-profits receiving tax breaks for providing funds to Israeli settlements that undermine US foreign policy and hopes for peace in the Middle East.
Neil Strauss is a legal fellow at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a non-partisan, non-sectarian grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Arab Americans. Rebecca Vilkomerson is the Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a nationwide membership organization grounded in Jewish tradition, human rights, and international law.