Israel Resource Review 2nd January, 2003


Shefa Fund Fights Charge of Aiding IDF Deserters:
Bedein Responds
Daniel Treitman
Correspondent, The Forward

The Forward correctly reports in its issue of January 3, 2003, "Fund Fights Charge of Aiding 'Deserters'" (posted below) that ISRAEL RESOURCE NEWS AGENCY has exposed the fact that the Shefa Fund in Philadelphia is funding those groups in Israel who advocate desertion from the IDF.

The issue will now reverberate in Israel, since it is not generally known that a diaspora Jewish organization stands behind the campaign to encourage IDF troops to disobey orders.

The only legal expert that the Forward chose to interview was one of the people who openly supports that desertion campaign. There are other legal opinions that the Forward could have solicited, especially in light of the fact that on December 31, 2002, Israel's liberal High Court of Justice unanimously threw out the petition of eight IDF troops who claimed to have the right to refuse to serve on moral and legal grounds.

In this Forward article, the Shefa Fund and their client organizations make several specious claims in their defense.

The Shefa Fund web site itself reports that it provided $160,000 to these groups over the past year, and not the amounts stated in the article.

Yesh Gvul spokesperson Rahat-Goodman and Courage to Refuse spokesman Amit Mashiah tell the Forward that "their organizations do not encourage soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories" , which is patently ridiculous.

Both organizations organize a well financed public relations campaign which openly encourages both new IDF inductees and reserve IDF soldiers to refuse to serve.

Why do they not have the courage to stand behind their own organizations?

Instead, they represent themselves to the Forward as if they run some kind of confidential counselling service (Deserters Anonymous?) , while their actual "modus operandi" is expressed in their public rallies, leaflets , billboards, TV appearances, press conferences and the e-mails that unabashedly call for IDF soldiers to desert their units if they are called to serve in places where they do not agree to serve.

The Forward makes no mention of the fact that "Yesh Gvul" and "Courage to Refuse" use donations from the Shefa Fund to offer financial incentives for any IDF soldier who will desert his unit rather than serve beyond the green line in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, Katif or the Golan.

Until last week, the web site of the "courage to refuse" organization announced that it would use donations to cover the costs of child care, tuition, mortgage payments and legal fees for those who would refuse to serve.

It is most instructive to note that the "courage to refuse" organization to remove these offers of remuneration from their web site while the article in the Forward was in preparation.

Is that not called "tampering with the evidence"?

However, on New Years Eve in Israel, Yesh Gvul mailed out fund-raising brochures which informed their contributors that their organization will offer potential IDF deserters a stipend of $750 a month for refusing to serve, which can be considerably more than he would receive from the "bituach leumi" (Israel national security allowance institute) system for a normal IDF monthly army stint.

The Shefa Fund in Philadelphia and their support groups in Israel have therefore made it financially beneficial to refuse to serve in the IDF and to not suffer from any economic consequences of such a decision.

At a time of economic difficulties in Israel, it has now become a profitable enterprise to desert the IDF and to "refuse to serve".

Now that is what we call a financial incentive for IDF desertion, thanks to the Shefa Fund.

Who ever said that crime does not pay?

The Shefa Fund, Yesh Gvul and the Courage to Refuse campaign may be in for a surprise and soon face their day in court.

The former Israel cabinet secretary Attorney Gideon Saar has written that the Israeli penal code defines those who will incite IDF soldiers to disobey orders as a felony crime which carries a penalty of seven years in jail upon conviction.

As a result, the Israel State Prosecutor's Office is considering taking legal action against organizations which have been conducting the current high profile campaign to encourage IDF soldiers to desert the IDF.

The question remains: Will the Shefa Fund organizers have the courage of their convictions to stand trial in Israel or will they continue to fund IDF troops to disobey orders from their diaspora peanut gallery in the comfortable Germantown community in Philadelphia? - david bedein.

A left-leaning Jewish charity that funds two organizations supporting Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the territories is fending off accusations from Israeli rightists that its contributions "finance desertion" from the Israeli army.

The charity, the Philadelphia-based Shefa Fund, allows donors to earmark tax-deductible donations to two Israeli groups that back soldiers who refuse orders to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. About 500 reserve soldiers have openly stated their refusal to serve in the territories during the last two years, and more than 100 have been charged with disobeying orders, typically drawing sentences of three to four weeks in military prisons.

The charge of "desertion," technically a capital offense, was raised in a mass e-mail sent out December 6, 2002, by the Israel Resource News Agency, a tiny Jerusalem news agency operated by David Bedein . . .

In his message, titled "Jews Who Finance Israelis To Desert IDF Must Be Stopped," Bedein, a native Philadelphian, called the Shefa Fund's activities "political," claimed its Israeli beneficiaries were paying soldiers to "desert their units" and urged action by supporters of Israel to "bring the tax authorities down on their back."

Since Bedein's Internet dispatch, which has been followed up by mass e-mail attacks from other Israeli rightists, the Shefa Fund said it has received more than 300 e-mail messages, many hostile but some supportive. Some messages were sufficiently "inflammatory" that the fund decided to alert local police as a precaution, said a fund official, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling.

The Israeli Supreme Court this week dismissed an appeal by eight soldiers who claimed their refusal to serve in the territories qualified as conscientious objection. The court ruled that since the eight were willing to carry out most military duties, their refusal constituted only "selective conscientious objection," which is not recognized in Israeli law.

In a statement, the Shefa Fund's president and board chairwoman, Jeffrey Dekro and Debbie Fleischaker, criticized the Israeli rightists' "extremely inaccurate and highly inflammatory e-mail campaign that challenges our fundamental right to exist." The statement said the charges that its Israeli beneficiaries encourage desertion were false and called the suggestion that the fund's grants violate its non-profit status "outrageous nonsense."

The fund's statement said that more than 800 individuals had earmarked donations to support the two Israeli groups, Yesh G'vul and Courage to Refuse. Liebling said that the fund has given approximately $42,000 to Yesh G'vul since June and $30,000 to Courage to Refuse since July for "their educational work . . . to inform the Israeli public about what their beliefs are."

Yesh G'vul was founded in 1982 by Israeli soldiers who objected to serving in Lebanon. Courage to Refuse was started last January by eight army reservists who object to Israel's current military activities in the territories. In a founding statement, the group declared: "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people."

According to the Courage to Refuse Web site, 511 reservists have joined the campaign, pledging not to serve in the territories.

Bedein told the Forward that the Shefa Fund was "fomenting a rebellion among Israeli soldiers" with its support for Yesh G'vul and Courage to Refuse.

"This is crossing a red line, and a very serious red line, in terms of encouragement of desertion from the Israeli army," he said. Bedein has cited a translation of a Yesh G'vul leaflet that accused the Israeli army of committing "war crimes" against the Palestinians and offers assistance to soldiers who decide to refuse to serve in the territories.

Yesh G'vul activist Ram Rahat-Goodman, however, called Bedein's assertion that his organization promotes desertion "an outright lie."

Rahat-Goodman and Courage to Refuse spokesman Amit Mashiah said that their organizations do not encourage soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, instead encouraging them to make their own decisions. Rahat-Goodman said his group encourages soldiers who have already decided to refuse to serve in the territories to show up for their army call-ups and simply refuse assignments to the territories. Mashiah said that reservists involved with Courage to Refuse "believe that Israel needs a very strong army," remain attached to their units and continue to serve in assignments within the Green Line.

Mashiah said that of 115 soldiers affiliated with Courage to Refuse who have been imprisoned so far for their actions, all had been charged by the army with refusing an order, not for desertion.

Chaim Gans, a Tel Aviv University law professor and director of the school's Minerva Center for Human Rights, said that what members of Courage to Refuse and Yesh G'vul are doing "is clearly not desertion, since they are not absent from service. They refuse to comply with the particular command to serve in the territories." Gans is a signatory to a faculty petition supporting Courage to Refuse.

Bedein said that he would take the same aggressive stance toward organizations that encouraged soldiers to disobey orders to dismantle settlements. Several prominent West Bank rabbis have spoken publicly in favor of such disobedience, but no efforts are known to have been made to target their American supporters.

This article ran in the Forward on January 3, 2003.

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