Are climate change deniers funding attack on Palestine activism?

Anti-Palestinian groups have spent a billion dollars in recent years to undermine solidarity activism.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

Last weekend, Zionist activists paid up to $1,000 each to attend a conference in Los Angeles on the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

StandWithUs, the conference’s organizer, is one of the most powerful outfits in the US leading the current backlash against activism in support of Palestinian rights. Though it tries to present itself as grassroots-led, it is funded by the Israeli government, as well as richly endowed foundations.

A new report by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network identifies eleven of the most significant of the foundations that provide financial backing to what IJAN calls the “Zionist backlash.”

Zionist organizations have received nearly a billion dollars from these sources over the last seven years, according to the report.

Hubs and catalysts

“It is almost unknown that eleven major donors, routing their capital through an array of foundations, fund nearly the entire network of ‘hubs and catalysts’ of anti-Palestinian backlash in the United States,” according to the report.

IJAN analyzed thousands of pages of tax returns of some of the most prominent “backlash” organizations, including the Amcha Initiative, StandWithUS and Hillel International.

It traced their funding to the Newton D. and Rochelle F. Becker Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Adelson Family Foundation, the Koch Family Foundations, the Moskowitz Foundation and the Fairbrook Foundation.

Some of these names will be familiar to readers acquainted with the well-funded “Islamophobia industry” in the United States. Previous investigative reporting and research have shown that overlapping interests provoke anti-Muslim sentiment as well as strengthen the US-Israel relationship.

However, lesser-known players with similar objectives have undergone less scrutiny.

For example, the Koch Family Foundations, operated by Charles and David Koch — notorious for their zealous devotion to the free market as well as their significant sway over electoral outcomes — poured $56 million in 2012 alone to Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, intermediary groups that are used to obscure funding for sensitive or controversial causes. The Koch brothers’ firm, Koch Industries, is heavily involved in energy projects.

Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust gained notoriety for their heavy investment in institutions that produced dubious reports challenging the veracity of climate change.

But it has also contributed significantly to Zionist backlash organizations — including StandWithUs, the Friends of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Of note, in 2011 the Center for American Progress found that Donors Capital Fund was the largest contributor to the “Islamophobia network.”

Sustaining power and profit

Donors Capital Fund has also donated to Shurat HaDin — or Israel’s Law Center. Focused on taking lawsuits against Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists, that group has ties to the Mossad, Israel’s foreign inteligence outfit. Shurat HaDin assisted the US government’s recent case against Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh.

Many of the donors use intermediary “donor advised funds” — also called “anonymizers” — to obscure their support for more controversial groups. Anonymizers receive and disseminate direct donations and play a large role in distributing funds to Zionist backlash organizations, as the IJAN report details.

Only by reviewing a specific foundation’s public tax returns can one gain any insight into who is funding these intermediaries.

Like Donors Capital Fund, these intermediary groups have innocuous names including Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and Jewish Communal Fund. Yet they bankroll some of the most aggressively anti-Palestinian groups all over the United States.

IJAN’s report emphasizes the crucial alignment of interests that fuels such bounteous investment in fighting and undermining Palestinian activism in the United States. Profit competes with political ideology as a motivating force, the report suggests. Many of the biggest funders of the backlash also maintain substantial investments in oil, gas and weapon industries that have interests in Israel’s geopolitical position.

“While there are donors whose investments in the backlash are clearly ideological, we want to make the case that these are rational investments, that are, in part, about sustaining their power and profit,” David Langstaff, a researcher with IJAN, told The Electronic Intifada.

Langstaff also stated that while many of his colleagues were shocked by the sheer amount of money flowing to the Zionist backlash, he was more struck that these funders were simultaneously funding attacks on other movements for social justice, including environmental, anti-racist and labor organizing.

Langstaff was involved in the drawn-out legal battle by Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state after it decided to boycott Israeli merchandise. StandWithUs, along with the Zionist Organization of America and the Lawfare Project, propelled litigation against the co-op’s right to boycott Israeli goods on such dubious legal grounds that two courts ultimately ruled that the case had “no merit” and qualified as an attack on public expression.

While the litigative effort has thus far failed, Langstaff points out, “There were years’ worth of energy going into that single victory.”

But in spite of the big money that fuels their opposition, the IJAN report stresses that Palestine solidarity activism in the United States continues to have successes.

“It is our hopeful conclusion that our movement has made gains in spite of such enormous quantities of money,” Langstaff said.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco. Twitter: @CharESilver