LAKEWOOD, N.J. (AP) — An Israeli group that assists Jewish prisoners convicted in some of the country’s most notorious hate crimes has halted its fund-raising efforts through a U.S.-based Jewish charity following an investigation by The Associated Press and the Israeli nonprofit news organization Shomrim.
The fund-raising through the Lakewood, New Jersey-based World of Tzedaka had allowed American donors to make tax-exempt contributions to the hard-line Israeli group, and suggested that Israel’s far right was making new inroads into the U.S.
World of Tzedaka confirmed that it was no longer working with Shlom Asiraich, while a fund-raising link on the Israeli group’s website that connected donors to the American nonprofit has stopped working.
“We don’t do any business with them anymore, so we don’t have anything else to do with them,” said Yaakov Cohen, who identified himself as a manager for World of Tzedaka.
Shlom Asiraich, or “The Well-Being of Your Prisoners,” has been raising money in Israel since at least 2018. The group was officially registered as a nonprofit in 2020 by a group consisting mostly of Israelis from hard-line settlements in the West Bank.
According to its promotional materials, the group has provided assistance to Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995; Amiram Ben-Uliel, who was convicted in the 2015 murder of a Palestinian baby and his parents in an arson attack; and Yosef Haim Ben David, who was convicted of abducting and killing a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem in 2014. The group also assists an extremist ultra-Orthodox man who fatally stabbed a 16-year-old Israeli girl at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade in 2015.
A spokesman for Shlom Asiraich slammed down the phone twice when he was called by The Associated Press for comment on Thursday.
It's not clear when the U.S. fundraising efforts on behalf of Shlom Asiraich began. Being a relatively new organization, the group's official filing to Israel’s nonprofit registry provides little data and does not indicate how much money it has raised. But in its promotional flyers, recently broadcast by Israeli Channel 13 news, the organization indicated it has raised 150,000 shekels, or about $43,000.
It's also not clear how much of that money was raised in the U.S. by World of Tzedaka, a group that assists Jewish families in distress, according to its website. Lakewood, New Jersey, is home to a sizeable Orthodox Jewish community.
Cohen, the World of Tzedaka representative, said his group had raised just $200 for Shlom Asiraich before the connection was halted, though that figure could not be verified.
“It didn’t really get off the ground that much. Then we started hearing some questionable information about them. Then rabbis advised to stop doing business with them, so we did,” he said.
Just when the break happened isn’t clear. Cohen said it happened “a few months” ago after “a few people locally” brought the connection to their attention.
But he couldn’t specify when, and a link on the Shlom Asiraich website that connects to the World of Tzedaka donation page was still working when the AP-Shomrim investigation was published on Jan. 24. Another link directly on World of Tzedaka’s website has also disappeared.
“We removed them from our website, and we asked them to remove our name from their website and whatever they had and we completely separated from them,” Cohen said.
Israeli universities, hospitals and charities often have fund-raising operations in the U.S., but activities like those of extremist groups like Shlom Asiraich are rare.
It is not known whether Shlom Asiraich or World of Tzedaka broke any U.S. laws. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s rules for fund-raising by nonprofit organizations are vague – saying the groups cannot exert political influence or benefit private interests.
The IRS declined to comment on the case. The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reports about Shlom Asiraich, but referred questions to the Justice Department.
“We condemn extremist violence in all its forms,” the State Department said.
The Justice Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new far-right government took office in late December, giving ultranationalists and extremist lawmakers unprecedented power. There is no direct link between Shlom Asiraich and the government, though its registration with Israeli authorities was handled by a top aide to Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir.
This article was published in partnership with Shomrim, The Center for Media and Democracy in Israel. AP correspondent Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed reporting.