B’nai B’rith International, the first and oldest Jewish organization in America, has long cited its humanitarian and disaster relief efforts around the world as one of the four “pillars” of its historic identity. Indeed, the group’s home page describes B’nai B’rith as “a leader in disaster relief.”
But a review by the Forward of B’nai B’rith’s public tax records indicates that over the past five years, the overwhelming majority of its expenditures on humanitarian relief — about 95% of its aid budget — consisted of pharmaceutical supplies that it received from another charity and shipped on to hospitals and medical centers in Latin America. Half of those donations went to Argentina.
Out of some $41.4 million that B’nai B’rith has spent on humanitarian relief since 2008, only some $2.1 million appears to have gone to actual disaster relief in areas of emergency or urgent need, such as Haiti, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and Fukushima, Japan, in the wake of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear plant disaster there.
B’nai B’rith receives the pharmaceutical supplies it ships to Latin America from Brother’s Brother Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based charity. B’nai B’rith spokeswoman Sharon Bender said that her group started working with Brother’s Brother in 2002, when a B’nai B’rith leader — Bender declined to say who — served as chairman of the foundation.
“He had a contact involved in B’nai B’rith Argentina, and they talked about needs of the Argentina community due to the extreme inflation at the time,” Bender said.
According to B’nai B’rith International’s Latin American director, Eduardo Kohn, the group has since donated $100 million in pharmaceutical supplies to Latin America. A review of B’nai B’rith’s tax forms by the Forward was able to identify half of that, about $48 million, during that period.
B’nai B’rith says that’s because for the first four years of the organizations’ relationship, the Jewish group did not list the value of the pharmaceutical supplies as either revenue or as an expenditure in its financial statements. The organization started listing the drugs’ in-kind value in both columns only in 2006, said Bender.
“Some of our leaders — proud of our efforts — had suggested we show it to gain recognition for the good work we do,” she wrote in an email.
Luke Hingson, president of Brother’s Brother, confirmed that the $100 million figure is correct.
Hingson said the majority of pharmaceutical supplies it provides to B’nai B’rith to ship to Latin America are generic antibiotics, anti-diabetic products and medicine for high blood pressure.
He said that Brother’s Brother works with B’nai B’rith in Latin America because the latter has a good network of contacts through its local lodge system, and also because of the group’s integrity. “Not every group everywhere offers integrity,” Hingson said. “B’nai B’rith does.”
The pharmaceutical supplies, which B’nai B’rith receives as a bulk donation from Brother’s Brother and then donates to Latin American governments, can account for as much as 59% and as little as 17% of B’nai B’rith’s total revenues in any given year.