Is new UK Zionist group funding settlements?

The expanding edges of the Israeli settlement of Ma’on, which is taking land from the Palestinian village of al-Tuwani, in the occupied West Bank, April 2014.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

A UK-based “solidarity campaign” for Israel is facing questions about whether it has given financial support to war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The Israel Solidarity Campaign, or ISC, was established in late 2014. Despite presenting itself as a grassroots initiative, it is a propaganda outfit working closely with the Israeli government.

It is also the UK affiliate of a new faction within the World Zionist Organization, which finances the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, the ISC cosponsored “IsrAction Day” in December 2014. That initiative was intended to counter the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel.

The Zionist Federation, an umbrella organization of pro-Israel groups in the UK, is planning a second IsrAction day on 13 December this year; its stated aim is to “beat the BDS.”

Mainly organized by the small hard-line groups North West Friends of Israel and Sussex Friends of Israel, the 2014 action day promoted the tactic of “buycott.”

That involves purchasing Israeli goods from shops potentially targeted by BDS activists and then donating them to homeless people, in an attempt to improve Israel’s image.

When this writer emailed both groups to ask what funding they received from the ISC, Raf Bloom from North West Friends of Israel denied any financial relationship but confirmed ISC had coordinated publicity for the day.

Sussex Friends of Israel did not respond to the request for comment.

In a detailed response emailed to The Electronic Intifada, ISC advisory board member Jeremy Newmark, former CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, confirmed that the group “provided a four figure sum” to Sussex Friends of Israel to sponsor the event.

Sussex Friends of Israel seems likely to have been the sole recipient of almost $35,000 in external funding for IsrAction Day.

This figure comes from the financial accounts of Over the Rainbow, the ISC’s parent organization.

The accounts detail in Hebrew how 120,000 shekels (nearly $30,600) were spent on supporting “procurement” of Israeli goods in the UK and an additional 16,800 shekels ($4,280) on transport for this action.

Access to this kind of money stretches the notion of grassroots beyond credibility.

The head office of Over the Rainbow did not respond to an email asking for comment.

“Zionist spring”

The ISC was registered as a company in the UK in 2014. Its director is Tzvi Avisar, a former Israeli government official.

Avisar is also CEO of Over The Rainbow.

Avisar has set up Over the Rainbow branches in several other countries, including South Africa, Canada, Italy, the US, Germany and Australia.

By funding events like IsrAction Day, Over the Rainbow hopes to reverse the global trend of waning support for Israel.

As the group puts it in a policy document, “in today’s interconnected world in which Zionism faces global challenges, the value and importance of Zionist ambassadors worldwide cannot be overstated.”

Over the Rainbow says on its website that it aims to restore the “luster and magic” of the Zionist movement and ISC wants to create nothing less than a “Zionist Spring.”

However, unlike the genuinely grassroots democratic uprisings of 2011 which were dubbed the Arab Spring, Over the Rainbow is a well-funded, top-down initiative that has been exported around the world direct from elite circles in Israel.

According to its glossy website, one of its key aims is to make the World Zionist Organization “relevant for the Jews of the world in the 21st century.”

Order to kill

The WZO was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897, and was central to the establishment of the State of Israel. Its leaders Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion later became the first president and first prime minister of Israel.

According to his LinkedIn page, Avisar was a press officer in the ministry of trade and industry during the government of alleged Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon. Avisar has also written a biography of Sharon.

Over the Rainbow is allied with the Kadima World Union; Kadima is the political party founded by Sharon when he split from the right-wing Likud, which leads the current Israeli government.

In June 2015, the ISC brought alleged war criminal and former Kadima chairperson Shaul Mofaz to London. A military commander during the second intifada, Mofaz has been accused of ordering troops to kill at least 70 Palestinians per day.

Newmark confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that ISC assisted with the logistics of Mofaz’s visit to the UK and provided “core sponsorship of the conference” and “paid the specific costs” of his trip.

Lack of transparency

What are Over the Rainbow’s links to the Israeli government? There is little transparency about the nature of this relationship.

The above tweet shows Over The Rainbow’s Tsvi Avisar (left) posing with ISC adviser Jeremy Newmark (right) and war crimes suspect Mofaz in London.

Over the Rainbow’s founder Tsvi Avisar lists on his LinkedIn page four different Israeli government ministries he has worked for.

Liad Ilani, another founder of Over the Rainbow and a member of its board, is an adviser to the current Israeli construction minister.

The ISC has also brought Doron Avital to the UK for a dinner at London’s elite East India Club. Avital is a former commander of the Sayeret Matkal, an Israeli commando unit notorious for operations such as the assassination of the Palestine Liberation Organization leader Abu Jihad in Tunis in 1988.

An organizational chart contained within one of Over the Rainbow’s Hebrew-language documents (translated above) specifies four branches of the Israeli government that the group appears to see itself as working alongside. These include the prime minister’s office and the ministry of advocacy.

Jeremy Newmark claimed in his statement to The Electronic Intifada that ISC “has no formal relationship with the government of Israel.”

But he admitted that the four government departments were included on the diagram because Over the Rainbow “engages on a regular basis” with them.

There is little doubt this organization is working in the service of hasbara, as Israeli propaganda is known.

Letters of appreciation to Over the Rainbow from two different Israeli ministries show its work has not gone unnoticed.

Funding settlements?

Over the Rainbow has organized a series of anti-BDS events at Canadian universities. It also produced Israeli Independence Day events in Germany and Italy this year, and organized and financed two pro-Israel demonstrations in Milan during the bombing of Gaza in 2014.

It is not clear whether it raises its money in Israel, in the US (where it is eligible for tax-deductible donations) or elsewhere.

But its project the ISC does not appear to be short of cash.

Each time the campaign hires a new member, a “generous donation” is made by an anonymous donor as part of support for “Zionist projects in Israel,” the group has stated. Newmark said, however, that this sponsorship program had ended after the first year.

What are the nature of these projects?

The Over the Rainbow page on the Israel Gives website previously looked like the screenshot above, taken in December 2014. Since removed, it shows a map which includes the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights under the heading “area served” and “Jews” under the heading “population served.”

The list of Over the Rainbow’s activities includes “settlement.”

Together with Over the Rainbow’s connection to the WZO — which, as the UN has noted, pumps millions into building on occupied Palestinian land through its settlement division — this suggests that the organization provides services to Israeli settlements, and could be funding them too.

All of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights are illegal and constitute war crimes under international law.

Asked about the map, Jeremy Newmark initially stated to The Electronic Intifada: “I have been in touch with the international leadership of ISC, and so far nobody recognizes the map or the description of beneficiaries.”

Later, he claimed: “The map and beneficiary information was not what was supplied by OTR [Over the Rainbow] itself. It may have been submitted by a third party or (in the case of the map) auto-generated incorrectly from other information supplied.”

On the “population served” listing, Newmark stated: “the reason the site talks about exclusively ‘Jews’ as the beneficiary is because … [Over the Rainbow’s] current focus … is work inside the WZO … a body whose membership is restricted to Jewish organizations … [but in Israel we] have a strong record of working to benefit those beyond the Jewish community.”

He also denied that the ISC or Over the Rainbow were involved in “funding or supporting Israeli settlements” in the West Bank.

The suspicion that Over The Rainbow may be involved in funding illegal settlements is only strengthened, however, by its own application process. New ISC members are required to state that they agree to the New Jerusalem Program (click “join now” on its website to see this).

This program describes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (no other state in the world recognizes this), includes references to “Eretz Yisrael” (“Land of Israel” — generally a “greater Israel” which includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and requires a commitment to “settling the land.”

In addition, Over the Rainbow is explicitly committed towards working to “ensure a continued Jewish national majority” inside present-day Israel, particularly in the Galilee and the Naqab. Palestinians in those areas have been subject to ethnic cleansing for decades.

Whatever the extent of their complicity in war crimes, one thing is certain: the Israel Solidarity Campaign and its parent group Over The Rainbow are not part of a grassroots movement. They are astroturf organizations, working in the interests of the Israeli state.

Hebrew translations by Shaul Hanuka and Ofer Neiman.

Hilary Aked is a freelance writer, researcher and journalist and a doctoral candidate at the University of Bath, investigating the pro-Israel lobby’s response to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.