Occupation magazine - Commentary on current events
From Canada with Love
My wife and I recently saw an article dealing with worldwide Jewish tax free donations to Israel. The Article contained several pie charts that attempted to depict the relative contribution of various Jewish communities around the world. We gleaned from this article that the Canadian Jewish community contributed some forty million dollars annually. We had a twofold reaction to this revelation. The first was that the figure appeared too small. It didn’t fit with numbers that we, sort of, had in our heads. The second was that this was a bloody huge amount of money to be taken straight out of the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. We probably do not need to educate the readers about the fact that what is usually referred to as donations to Israel are really tax deductible donations, which means that the lion’s share of the donation comes out of the totality of Canadian taxes collected in their bulk from ordinary Canadians, most of them not even Jewish.
We decided to look into it and quickly came to the conclusion that “it ain’t simple”. To try and figure out accurately how much money Canada contributes to Israel via Jewish institutions is every bit as complicated as it is to try and figure out how much money various Israeli ministries siphoned out of their budgets and passed on to the settlements.
The reason for the difficulty lies in the structure of the fund raising apparatus. It resembles a layer cake but even each individual layer is not uniform and often includes sub-layers. For example the main fund raising body in Canada is CJA. It raises its funds through independent communities each one taking a share of the total for local Jewish activities. However each one also makes a contribution to “national” activities and that column includes, among others, funding for the Israeli lobby in Canada - i.e. essentially this is another funding category for Israeli purposes. While the exact percentages vary from one community to another, it appears that roughly 50% of the total goes to Israel or Israeli activities. We were able to obtain figures for 2003 for the three largest centres in Canada, Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. These three centres alone contributed about sixty million dollars to Israel. (Note all numbers quoted are in Canadian dollars.)
Since these figures do not include such communities as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, it is quite reasonable to extrapolate from the previous figure that the total Canadian contribution to Israel, through CJA is approximately seventy-two to seventy-five million dollars.
While this sum is more than just the tip of the iceberg it is by no means close to the total.
In order to assess the total we need to access the other layers of the cake. For the purposes of this discussion we will deal with four additional layers.
The first is comprised of bodies such as the JNF and Hadassah Witzo, i.e. relatively large bodies with established infrastructures and whose contribution is multi-purposed. The next layer is the “Friends of….” This layer is comprised of a multitude of specific bodies in Israel such as for example all the universities and many of the major hospitals as well as more specific mission oriented bodies such as the ice skating arena in Metula. Despite some effort we encountered considerable difficulties in ascertaining what are the figures – thus erring on the side of caution we estimated that the total amount raised annually for Israeli projects by organizations included in the above two layers stands at around fifteen million dollars.
The next layer includes a variety of private and family foundations whose mission statements are to contribute to various projects in Israel. At this layer one must also include a multitude of special projects that are the “brain child” of various wealthy people usually initiated to commemorate members of the family or other related phenomena for example the Bloomfield Soccer Stadium, The Shrine of the Book and many, many others. Obtaining figures at this layer is even more difficult than at the previous ones. By the nature of things the figure here is also more variable. Once again an estimate of ten million dollars is certainly a conservative figure.
Finally, is a layer that we can only guess at and have no figures for whatsoever - we are referring here of course to the entire infra structure of religious fundraising. There are literally hundreds of “schnorers” who raise money for a multitude of yeshivas, schools, and other religious establishments. While we have no figures available to us we were told by many Jewish business men that a week doesn’t go by where they are not visited by some operator for real or even imaginary religious institutions. With some reservations we guestimate two to three million dollars for funds raised at this layer.
In closing it is perhaps worth noting that even the above does not represent the total. Emergency campaigns e.g. “Bringing the Ethiopian Jews home” and various other ad hoc projects, occur on a regular basis. Thus once again erring on the side of caution we come to the conclusion that the total amount of money transferred annually to Israel with the blessing of the Canadian tax authorities is around one hundred million dollars. The current scandal threatening to topple the Canadian Government known as the “Sponsorship Scandal”, involves misappropriation of a hundred and fifty to a hundred and eighty million dollars. This is considered national crises of unprecedented proportions. The fact that every year Canadian tax payers fork out two thirds of that amount to another country for purposes over which Canadians don’t have any control and indeed may be destined for purposes not approved of by the majority of Canadians is a rather sobering thought.
Zalman Amit is an Emeritus Professor of psychology at Concordia University in Montreal