Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 11:56PM
Donations to the NGO, which champions Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, topped $115 million over eight years, much from companies based in global tax shelters.
by Uri Blau and Nir Hasson 6 March 2016 Haaretz
Soldiers on a tour of Ir David, East Jerusalem, 2014.Emil Salman
The right-wing organization Elad received donations worth over 450 million shekels ($115 million) between 2006 and 2013, Elad documents filed to Israel’s Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations show.
According to the Haaretz investigation, most of the donations came from companies registered in global tax shelters like the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and the Seychelles, and it is unclear who controls them.
Elad, which operates in East Jerusalem, has two main focuses: settling Jews in the largely Arab Silwan neighborhood and running tourist and excavation sites. The chief tourist site is Ir David – the City of David – which it runs for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Elad has also been in a legal battle with the government over a planned archaeology park next to the Western Wall.
Some of the companies, meanwhile, contribute to other right-wing groups like the Yesha Council of settlers, or are contributors to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At least one company is linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea soccer club.
Other entities that donated to Elad include Keren Hayesod, the Jewish Agency and the Greater Miami Chapter of Friends of the IDF. Another significant overseas donor is Friends of Ir David, which is registered as a nonprofit company in New York and thus provides a tax write-off for its American donors. Friends of Ir David contributed 122 million shekels over eight years.
But the particularly big money came from a host of foreign companies registered in tax shelters, which makes it difficult to identify the owners or nature of their businesses.
Still, Elad received a certificate of proper management from the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations through 2016 without being queried about its donors. Elad did not respond to a request from Haaretz to provide more information on its donors.
Elad also runs tourist sites on the Mount of Olives, in the Abu Tor neighborhood and in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, also known as East Talpiot. It also owns many apartments and lots in the Mount of Olives and Silwan areas. In the past two years, Elad has significantly increased Silwan’s Jewish population.
The source of Elad’s donations has long been considered a well-kept secret. Despite legal requirements, for years Elad – a registered nonprofit that has always possessed a certificate of proper management – has not provided a list of donors that contribute over 20,000 shekels annually to the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations.
After telling the registrar that submitting the donors’ details could hurt them or the organization, Elad received permission in 2008 not to disclose donors’ names.
But the registrar later made requests, and in recent months Elad revealed to the registrar all donors that contributed over 20,000 shekels between 2006 and 2013. This totaled more than 450 million shekels, or 56 million shekels annually on average.
These figures are enormous by Israeli NGO standards, so it is no surprise that Elad is one of Israel’s wealthiest nonprofits. According to its 2014 financial report, its assets were 286 million shekels that year, with revenues of 59 million shekels.
Elad and the companies tied to it employed 97 people full-time that year, when the salary cost of Elad founder and head David Be’eri was 366,000 shekels.
The Davidson Center and Archaeological Park in Jerusalem, managed by Elad.Emil Salman
Elad enjoys other income, including government funding. In 2014, Elad received 1.4 million shekels from the Education Ministry’s Torah culture budget and 200,000 shekels from the Culture Ministry. It also sells tourist services in East Jerusalem.
It is doubtful whether another Israeli NGO can boast such a cash flow and the accompanying outlays.
In comparison, in 2014 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel raised 7.4 million shekels from private donors and foreign countries, the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence raised less than 1.5 million shekels, Peace Now raised 2.8 million shekels and right-wing group Im Tirtzu raised 1.7 million shekels.
Mysterious companies and funds
A right-wing nonprofit group using tax shelters is not an usual occurrence. Others like Elad do the same, often to acquire Palestinian properties because it is easier to hide the parties to the deal.
Of the 275 million shekels that reached Elad from offshore companies over the eight years in question, 135 million came from one company, Farleigh International Ltd. The company is registered in the Bahamas, and it is not clear who is behind it.
Meanwhile, holding company Leiston contributed 77 million shekels during that period. A company of this name is registered both in the Virgin Islands and Australia. In recent years its name arose as holding the contract rights to various soccer players.
Another contributor is the Orion Foundation, which is registered in the Isle of Man in Britain. Orion gave 525,000 shekels in 2013 alone.
This foundation is also the sponsor of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It has also contributed to NGO Monitor, which tracks the transparency of human rights organizations.
Another big donor is the Adar Foundation, which is known for funding right-wing groups and projects in the settlements. It funded Elad to the tune of 13 million shekels in the past three years.
Ovington Worldwide Ltd., registered in the British Virgin Islands, donated 55 million shekels to Elad during this period. Its name came up in 2008 in connection with Abramovich. According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, the company was behind a deal for the tycoon to buy mines in eastern Siberia.
Abramovich had already surfaced as a supporter of Elad’s activities. In 2006, he took part in the dedication ceremony of a new park at Ir David.
But he’s not Chelsea’s only connection to Elad. The donor list shows that in 2013 Eugene Tenenbaum, the club’s director and manager of Abramovich’s investment company, contributed about 35,000 shekels.
From IDF Friends with love
Among Elad contributors are also members of the Falic family of Miami, who are known to donate to Netanyahu. Contributions topping 900,000 shekels went to Elad through the Segal Fund for Israel, whose board is made up of the brothers Simon, Jerome and Leon Falic.
The foundation was established in 2007 to develop educational and cultural enterprises concerning Jewish history and Jewish settlement in Jerusalem and Israel in general. All money funding its activities have come from the family and family-owned companies in Panama.
On the eve of the Likud primary, the three brothers and their mother, Nili Falic, president of Friends of the IDF, donated nearly 300,000 shekels to various candidates. About 180,000 shekels of that went to Netanyahu. The rest went to Likud MKs and ministers, among them Moshe Ya’alon, Gilad Erdan, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Yuli Edelstein and Zeev Elkin.
In recent years, the family has also given $1.76 million to U.S. politicians, mainly Republicans, and to groups promoting political causes in the United States.
For Elad, the flow of donations does not just start in Miami. The Keren Ruth Bat Sarah foundation, an Israeli NGO backed by American Jewish billionaire Ira Rennert – a resident of New York, owner of Renco and contributor to West Bank settlements – donated 2.3 million shekels to Elad over eight years. Also on the list is the European Jewish Development Fund, which gave over 3 million shekels.
Other well-known organizations are also on the list of Elad contributors. Keren Hayesod, for example, gave nearly 3.5 million shekels between 2011 and 2013. The fund may have donated in recent years to national parks and heritage sites across Israel, but its website does not mention any contribution to Ir David. The fund did not respond to Haaretz’s questions on the subject.
Another prominent name on the list is the Greater Miami Chapter of Friends of the IDF, which gave 1.3 million shekels in 2013. Friends of the IDF branches abroad largely fund the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. In any case, all transfers require IDF approval.
A person who contributed to Elad is businessman Noam Lanir, who gave 72,000 shekels in 2006. Hashava, the Holocaust Restitution Company of Israel, gave 70,000 shekels.
The company told Haaretz: “At the request of an heir of a Holocaust victim who was recognized by the company as eligible to receive restitution funds, the company transferred the funds of that heir to Elad. As far as the company is concerned, it was restitution of a Holocaust victim to his heir, and the payment was carried out according to the request of the heir based on her own judgment. In any case, the matter does not constitute a donation by the company.”
Haaretz asked Elad to provide additional details of it donors, including the full name, address and contact person. Elad spokeswoman Reut Wilf said: “Elad operates with full transparency before the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations, and provides the registrar with all the required data according to the law, the regulations and rules of proper management.”
The office of the Registrar of Non-Profit Associations said that each year it examines documents from around 15,000 active nonprofit groups.
“In light of the extensive activity, these examinations are general and relate to the existence of the documents the associations must file by law,” the registrar said, adding that more thorough examinations are done on a spot-check basis or when a complaint is filed.
“The Registrar of Non-Profit Associations conducts around 250 thorough examinations each year and addresses around 1,000 complaints. Based on the nature of the findings, the registrar considers invoking powers.”
Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting http://pulitzercenter.org/.