J'em soup kitchen charity rejects claims it misled donors

In effort to clear his name, director and founder of Hazon Yeshaya Rabbi Abraham Israel publishes conclusions of internal audit.

Hazon Yeshaya 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hazon Yeshaya 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In an attempt to clear his name and save his soup kitchen charity, Rabbi Abraham Israel, director and founder of Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network, released the results of an internal audit Wednesday.
While the audit lacks certain fine details, such as the names and addresses of the schools and other programs his humanitarian network services in Israel, the work was carried out by a registered CPA and claims to account for all the monies raised here and abroad by the charity.
In a statement released together with the audit, which examined Hazon Yeshaya’s operations in 2010, Israel said he believed the report would discount any claims or suspicions raised in recent months about the charity. Last October, former supporters in the UK and in Canada alleged they had been misled about the exact size and scope of Hazon Yeshaya’s operations, and subsequently closed down the charity’s branches in several international locations.
“The damage caused by these scurrilous rumors has been immense,” said Israel.
“We have suffered a huge fall in donations and our good name has been blackened for no reason. Those who called themselves our friends have hurt us deeply and reduced our ability to help those who are in desperate need of our assistance.”
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Israel admitted that a sharp drop in donations had led him to revise previously published figures. He estimated that in 2011 Hazon Yeshaya had raised $8,500,000 from international donors, compared to $11,285,932 the previous year.
“We used to produce 14,000, but now donations are down so it is less,” admitted Israel, adding, “In the past we served 14,000, then we went down to 9,000 and today we serve about 5,000 hot meals a day.”
The audit released this week shows that Hazon Yeshaya funded a wide range of vocational training courses; special classes to become religious court employees; free dental treatments; medical kits for soldiers; and food, transport and other services for kindergartens and schools for children in need.
In addition, it shows that loans were given to impoverished families and food baskets, and other ready-prepared meals were distributed to the poor.
The audit, however, does not show exactly which schools or institutions received meals from Hazon Yeshaya, where they are based, or how much money the charity raised abroad.
Also, the auditors did not appear to visit any of operations outside Jerusalem.
Israel explained that “there is a lot of competition out there with other charities and a lot of jealousy” which is why he does not share such information publicly.
It is this level of secrecy, however, that caused suspicions to mount among Hazon Yeshaya’s former supporters around the world.
On Wednesday, those who used to represent the charity in Canada discounted the information in the audit, saying they still had many unanswered questions about what does not appear in the document.
Even though former supporters in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, South Africa and France have declared they are freezing all fund-raising activities until further information determines the charity’s true work, no one was willing to comment directly on the audit.
In response to a previous request for information from the Post, a representative of the charity’s former supporters said: “We have found very serious irregularities with Hazon Yeshaya, which have been further confirmed by other groups.”
“We have asked questions since early September that have never been answered,” the representative added, highlighting that the Canadian Friends of Hazon Yeshaya “stopped funding him since August, followed by Hong Kong [October], Australia and South Africa [November] and UK and France [December].
Also large funders have also stopped their donations.”
The representative also pointed out that the US branch of the charity is still operational.
“Unfortunately the US charity has no independent trustees,” said the representative.
“It is controlled by Abraham Israel and his family.”
Suspicions about Hazon Yeshaya were first raised this past summer when the charity’s Canadian Friends requested Israel provide them with some more details about food distribution and other services. When Israel’s response was insufficient, they sent a charity investigator to Israel and based on his findings decided to suspend all work with charity and raise the alarm among other groups worldwide.
A few months later, with the support of the other international funders, the group hired a team of private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents. This team filed a 100-page report with vast accusations, including the fact that Hazon Yeshaya was selling food to some of the organizations looking for charity.
While they claim to now have concrete evidence that Abraham Israel grossly mislead them, the former supporters in Canada and the UK said they could not divulge any exact information from the report at this time.
In his interview with the Post, Israel maintained that the allegations against him are too vague and that they stemmed from an attempt by his former supporters to “steal” his properties and ruin his reputation.
“All we are trying to do is feed the poor and it is devastating not to be able to do this,” he said.