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Dec 13, 2010

Funding illegal Israeli settlements?

Visa, Mastercard and PayPal have all blacklisted Wikileaks, but they enable donations to West Bank settlements that breach both international and in some cases Israeli law - and worse.

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Visa, Mastercard and PayPal all enable donations to be made to US-registered groups funding illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law.

It appears at least one of the major credit cards also enables donations to an extremist Jewish group that has placed a bounty on the lives of Palestinians.

All three have in the last week ceased enabling donations to WikiLeaks. Neither Mastercard nor Visa have explained the basis for their decision to do so. PayPal has backed away from its initial claim that the US State Department told PayPal WikiLeaks had broken the law after the claim was discredited. This is the third occasion on which PayPal has suspended payment services for WikiLeaks.

Israel subsidises over 100 settlements in the West Bank in defiance of international law. Another 100+ are “illegal outposts” even under Israeli law. All benefit from extensive support from the United States, channelled through a range of Jewish and right-wing Christian bodies, all of which have charitable status under US law. The International Crisis Group’s report on settlements in July 2009 identified the important role played by US charities. Israeli newspaper Haaretz has investigated the strong support provided via US charities, and Israeli peace groups have also targeted the generous support provided via private donations from the US and Canada.

Credit card transactional systems play a key role in facilitating this support for illegal settlements. Here are some examples.

  • The Shuva Israel group, an evangelical Christian group based in Texas, is accused by Israeli group Gush Shalom of channelling money to fund the illegal West Bank settlement of Revava. You can donate to it, says the Shuva Israel website, via Mastercard, Visa and Paypal.
  • The One Israel Fund, used as an example in the International Crisis Group report, boasts of being “the largest North American charity whose efforts are dedicated solely to the citizens and communities of Yesha”. You can donate to the One Israel Fund, according to its website, via Mastercard, Visa and Amex.
  • The website of another right-wing Christian group, the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities describes support for settlements like Argaman, which are illegal under international law. You can donate, their website says, via Mastercard, Visa and PayPal.
  • One of the highest-profile groups is the Hebron Fund, the centre of a 2009 row when the New York Mets were criticised for hosting a fundraising dinner for the group. It provides extensive support for the extraordinarily aggressive Hebron settlement, described by one Israeli group as “an ongoing war crime”, while the Fund itself has been linked to praise for an Israeli mass murderer. According to its website, it receives donations via all major credit cards.
  • Worst of all is the extremist SOS Israel group, which has incurred even the wrath of the Israeli Defence Force by rewarding Israeli soldiers who disobey orders to evict settlers from illegal outposts (i.e. inciting mutiny), and which has offered a bounty for Palestinians shot by IDF soldiers. The SOS Israel website describes a number of ways you can make your “generous donation” to it, including credit cards. Crikey’s token $2 donation via a Visa card was successful last night.

At this stage WikiLeaks has breached no international law and no laws of any country, but Mastercard, Visa and PayPal have all blacklisted it. All three continue to enable the support of settlements that are in breach of international law, in some cases of Israeli law, and in defiance of US policy on settlements under successive Republican and Democrat administrations.

Crikey invited Visa, Paypal and Mastercard to comment but none had responded by deadline.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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48 thoughts on “Funding illegal Israeli settlements?

  1. Barry Brunning

    Actually WikiLeaks is a publishing organisation for whistleblower leaks. As the case of
    Katharine Gun showed whistle-blowing can be protected action for the whistleblower and a public service by the publisher. For goodness sake get the facts, look at the history of WikiLeaks at Wikipedia.org.

    But back to the point of companies and their obligation. When you have an effective international duopoly in credit cards as is the case with MC and Visa, I believe there needs to be different rules. I often make donations to charities, NGO’s, etc. usually with MC. As a result of their action I cannot donate to WikiLeaks or the defence of Julian Assange in a convenient manner. Consequently, I plan to use cash or AmEx this Christmas wherever possible and I trust many other fair-minded people will choose to do likewise. Sadly the choice to use cash or AmEx cannot be universal, which illustrates my point about a duopoly, which should not be able to frustrate transactions at its discretion.

  2. freecountry

    [Please get your facts right : Wikileak neither condone or encourages the illegal DDOS attacks initiated by Anonymous. Reports that Assange approve of their action is a lie. Assange may be a wanker, but he’s definitely not an idiot.]
    Yesterday Julian Assange made this
    statement from jail:
    [“We now know that Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and others are instruments of US foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before. I am calling for the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks.”]
    Illegal? Wow, that word is getting a workout. For a calmer discussion on why a finance company might or might not suspend dealings with an account holder, see West Law News. Following new laws in 2001, finance companies were forced to become extremely risk-averse about whom they dealt with, and they take their cues from the governments in whose jurisdictions they operate.

    Of course there’s nothing in Assange’s statement that directly encourages hacker attacks. People read between the lines, though. Assange knows this, and so does Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens, who was quick to try <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101214/tc_nm/us_wikileaks_assange"distancing him from incitement to hacking:
    [“When I told Julian about the cyber attacks … he said ‘Look, I’ve been subject to cyber attacks. I believe in free speech, I don’t believe in censorship and of course cyber attacks are just that.’ “]
    Is that’s the best he can do, the most anti-hacking Assange quote that Stephens can come up with, then Assange is clearly not falling all over himself to remind his supporters to act within the law.

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