New US legislation aims to block New York charities from funding Jewish settlements

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 18, 2023

There is little regard for international law when it comes to Palestinians, assembly member Zohran Mamdani says.

A New York State assembly member introduced on Tuesday legislation to stop charities from sending millions of dollars to Israel to support Jewish settlement activity, as settlements have been deemed illegal under international law. 

The legislation, “Not on our dime!: Ending New York Funding of Israeli [Jewish] Settler Violence Act,” was introduced by state assembly member Zohran Mamdani, the third Muslim in the New York State assembly. 

The legislation would give the state attorney general authority to sue and dissolve not-for-profit organizations that are found to be using their tax-deductible donations to support organizations funding illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

It would also give Palestinians harmed by settler organizations funded by New York-based charities the right to seek damages in American courts.

“Charities registered in New York State currently send more than $60 million dollars a year in tax-deductible donations to aid and abet Israeli [Jewish] settlements. This is done on our dime as New Yorkers,” Mamdani told Middle East Eye.

“This legislation puts an end to that and makes explicit that subsidizing violence and activities outlawed by the Geneva Convention is not, and should not be considered, charitable giving. It’s past time for New York to catch up to international law.”

He said that while this issue is important to him as a Muslim, as his faith informs his fight to ensure justice for all people, this is not a bill motivated by religion.

“It is a bill motivated by a desire that New York State stop subsidizing human rights violations through the conferring of charitable status to organizations such as these,” he said.

“Too often, we see an exception drawn when it comes to Palestine – whether it be in our policies or the application of them. This makes it clear that our belief in human rights is universal, without exception.”

The Central Fund of Israel, an organization registered in New York, is one of the most significant sources of non-governmental support, sending millions annually to Israel.

In 2019, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process [sic] said that Jewish settlement activities are “a flagrant violation under international law”.

In February, Israel granted retroactive authorization to nine Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and announced the construction of new homes within established settlements.

The UN Security Council then issued a formal statement condemning Israel’s plan to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, after the United States made a rare decision to support the motion.

Lawmakers condemning bill

The legislation has already received some backlash. Mamdani told MEE this his office has received a call saying all Muslims should die and all Muslim lovers should be killed as well. 

“This is the reality when you dare speak up about Palestine and Palestinians,” he said.

Additionally, 66 lawmakers signed an open letter condemning the legislation, saying it “attacks” Jewish organizations.

“This bill is a plot to demonize Jewish charities with connections to Israel. It was also introduced to antagonize pro-Israel New Yorkers and further sow divisions within the Democratic Party,” the letter said.

Mamdani explained that not only is this disingenuous, but it also reveals how “little regard there is for international law when it comes to Palestinians”.

Aber Kawas, an organizer from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights’ (USCPR) steering committee, which is involved in the legislation’s campaign, said the backlash was no surprise at all – nor does she anticipate there will be a lot of support for the bill from New York State lawmakers. 

“These are the same type of rhetorical points that are often used against the Palestinian movement. But if you actually read our bill, it was crafted very, very intentionally,” she told MEE.

She explained the bill specifically says it is to “prohibit not-for-profit corporations from engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity”.

“It has nothing to do with the State of Israel’s right to exist,” she explained. “Of course, they are taking the bill out of context.”