How the Seattle Jewish Federation blocked a donation to B’Tselem

Iyad Hadad (second from right), a field researcher from B’Tselem, listens to testimony from a Palestinian farmer who said his land was damaged in an attack by Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Turmus Aya, June 8th, 2015. (credit: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman/File Photo)
Donor-advised funds have legal discretion to deny gifts to groups that criticize Israel.

By Alex Kane | Jewish Currents | Feb 23, 2022

“I’m not asking the Federation to debate apartheid…I’m only asking them not to defund the organizations that want to.”
— Alan Sussman

On July 26th, 2021, Alan Sussman did what he does every year: He asked the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which manages his family’s donor-advised fund, to send grants to nonprofit groups of his choosing. The 78-year-old civil liberties lawyer wanted to donate to six organizations that do work involving Israel/Palestine: T’ruah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence, +972 Magazine, B’Tselem, and, full disclosure, Jewish Currents. The Jewish Federation agreed to his funding requests, with one exception: They denied Sussman’s request to donate $1,000 to B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group.

In November, the Federation told Sussman it would not distribute his family funds to B’Tselem because, in January 2021, the human rights group declared that Israel operates an apartheid regime based on Jewish supremacy. (In response to a request for comment from Jewish Currents, a Federation spokeswoman, Tovah Bigeleisen, said, “we have nothing to add.”.) Sussman had confronted a similar issue in 2019, when his request to send money to the anti-occupation group IfNotNow was rejected because, according to the Federation, the group violates its policy of only funding organizations that build a “cohesive Jewish community.” Similarly, in 2016, the Jewish Community Foundation of LA denied a donor’s request to send money to IfNotNow. (Meanwhile, it’s unclear if similar red lines exist on the right: left-wing activists have targeted other Jewish donor-advised funds for funding anti-Muslim organizations, while journalists have documented such funds giving money to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.)

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