Silver Lining

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Americans give $274 million to aid Israeli ‘settlements’ – new report

by Adri Nieuwhof, EI

Right-wing organizations have become an important part of the Israeli government’s propaganda “machine,” a new report has found.

The ruling coalition formed in Israel earlier this year has established a ministry for “public diplomacy,” with the aim of stepping up cooperation between the state and nominally independent groups supporting Zionism.  A report published today by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem documents how the ministry’s establishment follows a decade-long trend whereby the government has increasingly assigned tasks to certain organizations.

One of the best examples of this cooperation involves the settler group Elad. Also known as the Ir David Foundation, Elad has been given formal responsibility for managing the Kingdom of David park in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Elad’s efforts to prove that the remnants of an ancient Jewish kingdom can be found there have been used as a pretext for expelling Palestinians so that settlers can take over the area.

While some of Elad’s work has been funded directly by the Israeli government in recent years, it does not publish full details of its funding.

Extremists

Similar organizations have relied on support from extremists in the US, according to the Alternative Information Center.

Im Tirtzu is a group headed by settlers which is known for accusing Israel’s critics of anti-Semitism. This is somewhat ironic as Im Tirtzu’s main source of finance in recent years has been Christians United For Israel (CUFI), whose founder, Texas-based preacher John Hagee, has made comments of an anti-Semitic nature. He has, for example, written that Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves through their “disobedience” towards God.

Worth 375,000 shekels ($103,000), the largest single donation to Im Tirtzu in 2009 originated from CUFI.

The Alternative Information Center cites data, indicating that American-registered organizations transferred about $274 million to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza between 2002 and 2009.  These donations enjoyed tax-exempt status.

Right-wing groups in the US are often able to register as charities by dedicating part of their budget to “social projects” for settlers in the West Bank, despite the fact that such settlements are illegal under international law.

Furthermore, US regulations are less strict than Israeli law which stipulates that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have to publish annual financial reporst including the names of donors who gave more than 20,000 shekels ($5,528). Channeling donations through US groups has become an easy to way to circumvent the requirement to reveal the names of donors.

The report shows how NGO Monitor — a group dedicated to attacking critics of Israel — has strong connections to the Israeli political elite.

NGO Monitor began as a project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a “think tank” now headed by Dore Gold, who has served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. The Electronic Intifada is one of many organizations that has been attacked by NGO Monitor.

Secretive

In 2010, the NGO Monitor prompted Uri Rosenthal, then foreign minister in the Netherlands, to criticize a Dutch Christian charity, ICCO, for providing a grant to The Electronic Intifada. ICCO did not capitulate to pressure from Rosenthal and continued its grant to The Electronic Intifada the following year.

Despite its focus on where groups perceived as hostile to Israel receive their funding, NGO Monitor does not reveal the source of its donations and has asked the government for permission to keep the identities of its donors secret.

Some of the sources of its finance are nonetheless known. They include the Jewish Agency — a body committed to the colonization of Palestine — and Shari Arison, a billionaire who owns Israel’s Bank Hapoalim. Most of the money used to set up the outfit came from Michael Cherney, a confidant of Israel’s former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

NGO Monitor also receives significant funding from the US. In 2008 and 2009, NGO Monitor received 1,608,512 shekels ($444,586) and 1,319,676 shekels ($364,753) respectively in donations. One of its largest contributors was a group called American Friends of NGO Monitor.

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