NGOs should not be providing fiscal sponsorship to terrorist organizations

The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), an American organization, has supported the Gaza Return March and the terrorist groups behind it.

A Palestinian woman shouts slogans during a March of Return protest at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, east of Gaza City August 31, 2018.  (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman shouts slogans during a March of Return protest at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, east of Gaza City August 31, 2018.
The coronavirus claimed another victim in recent days: the Gaza Return March. On Saturday, organizers postponed the return of these demonstrations, which began in 2018 but paused in recent months. The large crowds gathering along the border with Israel during these often-violent demonstrations would be a nightmare scenario for the transmission of the virus. While these gatherings have not been models of social distancing, they have provided ideal cover for terrorist groups to attack Israel’s border fence, fire rockets at Israeli communities and launch incendiary devices over the border. And yet, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), an American organization, has supported the march and the terrorist groups behind it, according to a pending lawsuit. The case will test the readiness of U.S. courts to block innovative means of financing terrorism.
A Washington, DC-based law firm filed suit in November 2019 on behalf of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and 12 American citizens living in Israel who were adversely affected by Palestinian rocket and incendiary attacks. The plaintiffs have endured bombardment and the constant threat of injury or death from Palestinian projectiles. The Rosenfelds, one of the families represented in the case, had their home seriously damaged by a Hamas rocket in July 2018. The lawsuit seeks to hold USCPR responsible for its role in promoting the attacks, alleging that USCPR “knowingly provides, distributes, and administers financial benefits, money, financial services and provides material support and encouragement” to terrorists.
Founded in 2001, USCPR serves as the coordinating body for American groups supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. USCPR has collected tax-deductible donations on behalf of the Ramallah-based BDS National Committee (BNC) since at least November 2017, serving as its fiscal sponsor. This role has brought USCPR into contact with terrorist groups.
The BNC, established in 2007 to steer and promote BDS, lists the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine (PNIF) first on its list of member organizations. Palestinian leaders formed the PNIF in 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, to coordinate violent attacks against Israel. The PNIF is comprised of several U.S.-designated terrorist groups, including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In short, USCPR is collecting funds on behalf of terrorist groups and cannot plausibly claim that it was unaware of doing so.
The lawsuit identifies the PNIF as a “main pillar” within the BNC and a key promoter of the Gaza Return March. The 62-page complaint notes that the PNIF created the Gaza Return March’s Supreme National Committee (SNC) in March 2018 and that several PNIF members sit on this committee.
The complaint maintains that the Sons of al-Zawari, a terrorist group responsible for many of the incendiary balloons launched during the march, “await and take orders” from the SNC. The lawsuit includes a photo from the SNC’s official Facebook page of al-Zawari operatives with incendiary balloons as proof that the SNC supports the launching of these flammable projectiles.
From April to June 2018, incendiary devices launched from Gaza sparked nearly 2,000 fires in southern Israel, scorching 8,400 acres of Israeli land. From March 2018 until November 2019, fires torched around 2,400 acres of property belonging to the JNF, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. Palestinian terrorist groups also fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel during this time period.
The lawsuit further alleges that Hamas is responsible for the rocket and balloon attacks because there is “evidence that the Sons of al-Zawari are part of Hamas.” Additionally, the lawsuit argues that Hamas’ iron grip on Gaza and its intimate involvement in the planning of the Gaza Return March make the terrorist group liable for the damage caused by the explosive balloons, incendiary kites and rockets launched amid the protests. This implicates USCPR, which is indirectly funding Hamas via PNIF.
USCPR and other NGOs should not be in the business of providing fiscal sponsorship or other support to terrorist organizations or to groups like the BNC that are linked to terrorist organizations. The Internal Revenue Service should monitor the usage of fiscal sponsorship to prevent this mechanism from being abused to aid terrorist groups. The IRS should also revoke any sponsor’s tax-exempt status if it is found to support an organization threatening American lives. Finally, until the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights cuts ties with the BDS National Committee, foundations and donors should stop contributing to USCPR to ensure they are not indirectly funding terrorist groups. American non-profits should not be raising money to raze Israeli homes and forests.
David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow David on Twitter @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.