A London-based online social platform for giving withheld more than £20,000 in donations for the Israel Defense Forces for over a month after they deemed the Israeli army a “militia,” a British association of lawyers for Israel said Friday.
JustGiving had refused to pay out a sum of £21,710 ($27,547) from a crowdfunding appeal after claiming that there was a risk the money would be used to “support a militia” and pay for “military activity.”
“It is absolutely outrageous and deeply worrying that senior executives at JustGiving maintained that the IDF is a militia and blocked the release of the funds,” said Caroline Turner, a director at UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), which took up the case. “The IDF is the army of a sovereign state, fighting a war against the terrorist group Hamas. Soldiers take huge precautions while operating in extremely difficult circumstances. It is not only incorrect but also an insulting slur to call the IDF a militia.”
The crowdfunder was set up by two friends, one based in Israel and the other in London, on Oct. 8 to help Israeli soldiers keep in touch with their families.
The fundraising page stated that it aimed to raise money to buy portable batteries and power banks for mobile phones for IDF soldiers, so they could call their loved ones.
The campaign raised the donations from 147 donors around the world, putting their campaign in the top one percent of fundraisers that month.
But when they tried to draw their funds on Oct. 30, they were told that their account had been frozen as their fundraising campaign had breached JustGiving’s “community guidelines.”
At the time, those guidelines stated that JustGiving did not permit campaigns that seek to “fund terrorism, rebel groups, militias or gangs.” Funds that may go towards the “procurement of weapons” were also barred.
JustGiving said it had frozen the funds and threatened to either send the money back to donors or hand it over to a different charity, said Turner.
UKLFI wrote to Michael Gianoni, CEO of Blackbaud Inc., the parent company of JustGiving, to point out that the IDF is not a militia and that mobile phone chargers are not weapons.
JustGiving subsequently updated its policy to say it would remove “pages that promote or seek to support any military organization.”
But UKLFI pointed out that it amounted to discrimination under the Equality Act to refuse to pay out funds for Israeli soldiers when there had been numerous fundraisers for Ukrainian and British soldiers.
UKLFI added that the change in terms appeared to be an attempt to “manufacture evidence in order to support their desire to discriminate against the campaign based on clear anti-Israel bias.”
JustGiving’s senior vice president and general counsel Jon Olson initially told UKLFI that: “Our terms and guidelines do not permit campaigns that seek to fund militias or the procurement of weapons. Upon our review of your campaign, we have determined that the risk of these funds being used to support a militia is apparent.”
It was only after further letters from UKLFI and a meeting with senior executives that JustGiving eventually agreed to release the funds and acknowledge they had been wrong to withhold them.
“I am glad JustGiving eventually released the funds, following our interventions,” said Turner.
Established in 2000, the web giant which calls itself “the world’s most trusted” platform for online giving says it has helped people raise over £6 billion for good causes in almost every single country in the world.