This is a guest post from Sondra Oster Baras of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC). She recounts a recent battle her organisation has had with BDS activists and their eventual triumph over this attack on their work. The BDS movement repeatedly uses underhand tactics like the ones described below to undermine, discredit and destroy organisations that dare to stand for values other than their own – ie anyone who stands for the existence of the State of Israel. This article is important because this kind of tactic is increasingly being employed in Britain to silence voices that speak up for objective truth in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We publish Sondra’s article in full and with permission.
BDS – CFOIC experiences Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions first hand
One of the strategies employed by the enemies of Israel in recent years is what has become known as BDS — boycott, divestment and sanctions. Pro-Palestinian activists lobby organizations, companies and governments and urge them to boycott Israeli products and business ventures, divest from companies that do business in Israel or who, in turn, invest in businesses in Israel, and to impose sanctions against Israel for its supposed persecution of the Arabs and so-called illegal occupation of Judea and Samaria. We were all witness to the highly publicized attempt to pressure Scarlet Johanssen to withdraw her support from Soda Stream, a successful Israeli company located near Maale Adumim in Judea.
A by-product of this campaign has been to explore legal avenues to embarrass or coerce pro-Israel organizations to cease their support for Israel in general or for Judea and Samaria in particular. Often referred to as “lawfare,” organizations extremely hostile to Israel are using the courts and law enforcement agencies as platforms to espouse their vitriolic hatred of Israel.
Unfortunately, CFOIC Heartland has been the target of a number of these attempts in recent years. We have kept a very low profile on this issue and have refrained from keeping you, our friends and supporters, up to date on the challenges we have faced in order to prevent unwanted publicity on the issue. In cases such as these, publicity can serve the interests of our detractors and create fertile ground for further slander and adverse public opinion. Just last week, we won an important victory in a US Court of Appeals and the time has come to share our joy and gratitude for this victory as well as to update you on the challenges we all face in our stand for Israel!
A few years ago, CFOIC Heartland’s US office was sued, together with four Jewish US-based organizations (Hebron Fund, One Israel Fund, Central Fund for Israel and American Friends of Ateret Cohanim) by 13 Palestinians. All five of our organizations share a passion for the settlement movement and focus most of our funding and educational efforts on the people and communities in Judea and Samaria or in the areas of Jerusalem liberated by Israel in 1967 together with Judea and Samaria. The 13 Palestinian plaintiffs accused us of supporting terrorism and terrorists and asserted that we were not legitimate humanitarian organizations but rather funding vehicles for Jews who were persecuting and harming Palestinians.
To support their claim, the plaintiffs noted the names of communities where Jewish extremists had been arrested for violent activities against Arabs and contended that since we provided funds for those communities, we were in essence funding those individuals who had committed the violent crimes. Furthermore, they contended that the so-called settlements violate international law and therefore, by funding projects in those places we, too, were violating international law.
The lawsuit did not identify a specific terrorist or terrorist attack that we had funded nor did the plaintiffs provide a single reasonable basis for its assertion that our organizations were involved in any way in illegal or immoral activity.
Upon receipt of the legal papers, I immediately conferred with the leadership of the other organizations and we agreed to act together to defend these charges. We were immensely blessed when Nat Lewin, an Orthodox Jew and committed Zionist from Washington, DC, agreed to take our case for a very low fee and together with his daughter and law partner, Aliza Lewin, handled the case from the beginning. We filed a motion to dismiss which we won, reflecting the district court’s opinion that the suit had no apparent merit. The plaintiffs then appealed this decision but the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the lower court decision and handed us our victory.
This was a case that had no basis from the very beginning but it is clear that the plaintiffs had unlimited resources at their disposal and one of their purposes was to bleed us financially as they forced us to defend ourselves for things we had never done. Furthermore, by including the claim that settlements violate international law, which was not really relevant to the case, plaintiffs sought a platform for this erroneous assertion.
While this lawsuit was moving forward, we were informed by the IRS, the US tax authorities, that we were going to be audited. As the audit progressed, we learned that the audit had been initiated because someone had filed a complaint against us with the IRS, asserting that we were funding terrorism by Jews against Arabs. It soon became clear that the IRS, like the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were focusing on a community where Jews had been arrested for violence against Arabs and they were looking for evidence that we had abused our tax-exempt status to fund illegal activity. I can’t prove it but I am certain that the same people initiated the lawsuit and the complaint to the IRS.
We have always been extremely careful in all things financial and legal and make sure to only fund projects that fulfill the legal criteria for charitable giving. After reviewing all of our records and accounts, the IRS was satisfied. They could not find a single thing wrong with CFOIC Heartland and we were cleared of suspicion.
A few of the European organizations who work closely with us have also faced similar attempts by the BDS people to force them to cease their support of our work. In addition, a number of media articles in recent years have reported claims by the BDS people that we are violating the law and their efforts to shut us down. As a result, our offices and the important ministries who work with us have been forced to hire attorneys to handle the resulting legal quagmire or at the very least to invest in media response.
When we started CFOIC Heartland, we envisioned a meeting place of love — where supporters and friends from around the globe would contribute their time and their funds and offer their prayers to help people in the Land of Israel. We never imagined we would become the targets of Israel’s worst enemies and be forced to defend ourselves in what has become the new battlefield of Israel.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, our supporters, for providing us with the material support to wage this battle and for offering your prayers and your encouragement as we continue our holy work. I want to thank Nat and Aliza Lewin for their brilliant and selfless work on our behalf. And I want to thank G-d for watching over us, here in Israel and around the world. As our enemies never tire in their efforts to defeat us, it is, indeed a comfort to know that the G-d of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps, as He guards Israel. Ours is an ongoing battle and I pray we will never tire of the effort to fight for justice, to fight for Israel!
Director, Israel Office
P.S. If you have any questions about this please don’t hesitate to contact us.
N.B. The publication of articles by guest writers does not necessarily imply that CMEW is in agreement with all their views or activities.