Fidelity Charitable Fund Blocks Donations to UNRWA as Gaza Starves

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This story was published in partnership with Important Context.

Fidelity Charitable, the largest grant-making organization in the United States, has removed the most impactful relief organization in Gaza from its catalog while still allowing funding for pro-Israel nonprofits and hate-groups, Important Context has confirmed.

Donors using the Fidelity Charitable donor-advised fund are no longer able to give money to the U.S. arm of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the largest international aid organization in Gaza. UNRWA USA, which provides support for the agency’s humanitarian work in Gaza, no longer shows up in a search of eligible nonprofits on the Fidelity Charitable platform.

With about 3,000 staff still on the ground, UNRWA provides essential medical and educational services to Gazans and has the most developed aid distribution infrastructure in the region. The decision by Fidelity Charitable to remove the aid group was made without fanfare or a public announcement.

While Fidelity Charitable only transferred $263,000 to UNRWA in its 2022 fiscal year, which runs from July 2021 to June 2022, its decision to cut off donations to the organization comes at a critical time, amid an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, when its work is needed more than ever. In the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which killed nearly 1,200, Israel has led a brutal siege on Gaza that has killed more than 30,000, displaced millions, and left much of the population at imminent risk of famine. At least 178 UNRWA employees have been killed during the Israeli war in Gaza.

Despite the overwhelming need, the U.S. and some countries have pulled funding for UNRWA, based on Israeli allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. This week, UNRWA issued a report alleging that its workers detained by Israel were “pressured during interrogations to make forced confessions against the agency” to support these claims — and that the abuses included “treatment akin to waterboarding.” 

Donor-advised funds like Fidelity Charitable pool money from numerous funders and allow the donors to choose where to send the money. 

There are a number of perks to this arrangement, including anonymity — the public has little way of knowing which donor to the fund is directing money to which recipient. It also provides tax benefits: Once a donor’s money is sunk into a donor-advised fund, they receive an immediate tax deduction. 

Opacity is a main reason why donor-advised funds have become a popular vehicle for funding controversial causes like anti-vaccine groups and hate groups. In 2019, Sludge reported that Fidelity Charitable had been used to transfer funds to more than 30 organizations identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as hate groups.

A progressive donor-advised fund, the Amalgamated Foundation, encouraged other organizations organized this way to block donations to hate groups. Over 100 donor-advised funds signed on to this campaign. Fidelity Charitable has not.

The mechanisms used by Fidelity Charitable to both list and delist potential fund recipients remain shrouded in mystery.

Fidelity Charitable has long funded right-wing groups as well as SPLC-designated hate groups. Since 2014, Fidelity Charitable has donated more than $4 million to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which the Southern Poverty Law Center notes is an anti-Muslim hate group.

Over the years, Fidelity Charitable has also given tens of millions of dollars to organizations that support Israel, including groups now backing the country’s war efforts in Gaza. In its 2022 fiscal year alone, Fidelity Charitable funneled $2.7 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group. AIPAC has been working to oust pro-ceasefire lawmakers and ensure continued U.S. support for Israel’s far-right government and its war in Gaza. 

Fidelity Charitable also gave $2.2 million to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which boasts on its website that it is “the sole organization authorized to collect charitable donations on behalf of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces across the United States of America.” The donor-advised fund also delivered $19.5 million to the Central Fund of Israel, which funds Israeli settlement organizations that work to displace Palestinians.

Fidelity Charitable has long claimed to be “cause-neutral,” with an organization’s eligibility decided by whether or not it is an IRS-qualified 501(c)(3) charity, the donor-advised fund deplatformed UNRWA USA despite its good standing with the IRS. Meanwhile, Fidelity Charitable continues to allow contributions to the pro-Israel groups cited in this article and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Those organizations are still listed as eligible nonprofits on its platform. 

Fidelity Charitable is a cause-neutral independent 501(c)(3) public charity and supports donor-recommended grantmaking to a wide range of charitable organizations as recommended by its donors,” says a spokesperson for the organization. “These recommended grants do not reflect the views of, or represent an endorsement by, Fidelity Charitable. 

The spokesperson adds, “Under policies set by its independent board of trustees, Fidelity Charitable conducts a robust review of each grant recommendation to ensure grants are made only to IRS-qualified public charities, that those public charities are not under investigation by governmental authorities regarding potential breaches of applicable law, and that those granted funds are used solely for proper charitable purposes, and without impermissible benefits to donors or any other person. Fidelity Charitable looks at each grant at the time it is recommended to ensure the organization is in good standing.”

A petition calling on the Fidelity Charitable to reverse its decision on UNRWA USA funding has been circulating online. It currently has 500 signatures.

“The removal of UNRWA from Fidelity Charitable’s giving platform not only undermines these critical efforts but also sends a message that contradicts the spirit of philanthropy itself,” the petition reads. “The UNRWA should not be punished for the unsubstantiated allegations that 12 staff (out of 13,000 staffers in Gaza) were allegedly involved in the events of October 7, 2023.” 

Fidelity Charitable’s removal of UNRWA’s U.S. arm from its platform follows the suspension of approximately $450 million in funding to the relief organization from 16 countries following Israel’s allegations that a handful of its workers were involved in the events of Oct. 7. 

To date, no evidence to support these claims has materialized — and UNRWA alleges that the Israeli military abused its workers to extract false confessions.

Recently, several countries have lifted their moratoriums on funding to the UNRWA and resumed sending aid to Gaza. However, the U.S., which has historically been the organization’s largest donor to UNRWA, giving between $300 and 400 million in aid annually, recently passed a ban on federal funding to the organization that will remain effective until March 2025. Congress is instead considering funneling aid to Gaza through the UN’s World Food Programme and UNICEF.


In his plans for Gaza, released in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for dismantling the UNRWA and replacing it with “responsible international aid organizations.” Israel has sought to destroy UNRWA for years, as former State Department official Dr. Annelle Sheline noted in a recent interview with Important Context. 

“I think cutting off aid to UNRWA will go down as one of the most diabolical actions in the end that Israel caused much of the rest of the world to take, just in terms of the levels of support that UNRWA provided to the people in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank,” Sheline said. “UNRWA is something that Israel has tried to get rid of for years, and I think they saw an opportunity here.”

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