WASHINGTON (IPS) - A campaign of attacks against the New Israel Fund (NIF), a US-based progressive organization that supports human rights groups in Israel, has gained attention in both the Israeli and US media, raising questions about the role played by foreign non-profits and nongovernmental organizations in influencing Israeli government policy.
But an IPS investigation into publicly available tax records has shed light on where funding for the attacks may have originated.
A group called Im Tirtzu spearheaded the attacks, which claim that the NIF funded various groups’ support of and participation in the Goldstone report. They allege it was part of a campaign by the NIF to delegitimize Israel.
The Goldstone report, formally known as the “Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” found that both Hamas and the Israeli military committed war crimes during the 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 Gaza assault. The report was released last fall.
The campaign ran a one-page advertisement in the Jerusalem Post depicting NIF’s president, Professor Naomi Chazan, wearing a demonic horn. Chazan was fired from her biweekly column at the Jerusalem Post after threatening legal action over the advertisement.
“It’s baseless. It’s vicious. It’s ideologically motivated and it capitalizes on the Israeli public’s anger over the Goldstone report. We see it as part of a larger pattern to shut down Israel’s human rights community,” Naomi Paiss, director of communications of NIF, told IPS.
Israeli Knesset member Otniel Schneller proposed a parliamentary commission to examine the NIF and its grantees’ role in “transferring false, exaggerated, and non-credible information to Justice Goldstone, thus harming the national interest of the State of Israel.”
The commission does not appear to be moving forward for now but a parliamentary sub-commission has already been formed to examine the foreign funding of Israeli organizations.
Im Tirtzu, which describes itself as “an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values”, requests that supporters send contributions to the Central Fund of Israel (CFI), a non-profit which funds a number of right-wing Israeli groups.
These include Amitz, which funds settler militias; Magen Yehuda, which assists with military training for settlers; and Women in Green, a right-wing group which opposes the return of land captured during the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War and promotes the “transfer” of Arabs to neighboring countries.
As reported by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, the CFI supports a yeshiva whose leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, has tried to justify the killing of gentile babies because of “the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents.”
“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “One of Israel’s outstanding strengths has been its vibrant civil society and its flourishing public debate, so these developments are particularly worrying.”
An IPS investigation into tax records has revealed a number of the biggest donors — those who gave more than $300,000 — to the CFI since 2005. Contributions to the CFI are tax-deductible.
“In terms of those that give their money to the CFI, I assume they think that the recipient of that money embodies their own values. If enough of them are sickened by this extremely mean-spirited attack and personal campaign, then perhaps they’ll find another way of supporting the causes they think are important,” said Paiss.
The biggest source of funding discovered during the investigation originated from C Funding, a foundation run by David Fishel.
Fishel, through C Funding, has contributed $2.25 million to CFI since 2005.
Fishel is a financial analyst at Liquidity Solutions, a company that, according to its website, “provides cash for paper assets that ordinarily are illiquid,” and “… specializes in purchasing claims and interests in distressed situations specifically bankruptcies, liquidations and insolvent estates.”
Fishel has served in the “Presidential Cabinet” of NORPAC, a major pro-Israel political action committee which supports the continuance of US foreign aid to Israel, the implementation of sanctions against Iran, and legislation to block aid to the Palestinian Authority until certain efforts opposing terrorism are undertaken.
Both Liquidity Solutions and Capital Investors — a company which appears to be based at Fishel’s home — contributed to C Funding.
Fishel did not respond to IPS calls for comment.
The second biggest source of funding came from foundations related to IDT, a publicly traded, New Jersey-based telecommunications company which had over $1.5 billion in revenue in the financial year ending on 31 July 2009.
The IDT Charitable Foundation contributed $870,000 to the CFI since 2005 and the Jonas Foundation — a foundation run by Howard Jonas, the founder and chair of IDT — contributed $1.12 million.
When called for comment, a company representative said that the IDT Charitable Foundation was no longer in operation and that no one involved with the foundation still works at IDT.
Indeed the IDT Charitable Foundation did not file tax returns after 2007, but a number of the foundation’s trustees are still listed on IDT’s website as executives at the company.
They include Ira Greenstein, IDT’s president; Joyce Mason, IDT’s executive vice president; and James Courter, IDT’s vice chairman of the Board of Directors.
Foundations related to DKR Capital, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, and one of its founders, Barry L. Klein, contributed $640,000 to the CFI since 2005.
Contributions came through the Chesed Israel Foundation and the Ner Tzion Foundation, both of which list Klein as the president or director.
Before founding DKR, Klein was a founder of an AIG division which later became the AIG Trading Group, a division that went on to play a role in the downfall of AIG and necessitated the AIG bailout by the US government.
Mark Weinrib, a former vice president at Morgan Stanley from 2007 to 2008 and a vice president at DKR from 1999 to 2007, was also listed as a trustee at Klein’s foundations.
DKR capital would not comment on Klein and Weinrib’s philanthropy and referred all questions to the publicly available tax returns.
The Ephraim Block Family Charitable Foundation contributed $628,000 to the CFI since 2005. No further information could be found about this organization.
While the donors who account for approximately $5.5 million in tax-deductible grants to the CFI, and its related organizations, such as Im Tirtzu, since 2005 have publicly available tax records, many more contributions may have been submitted by personal check or cash and are untraceable.
The funders discovered in this investigation chose not to comment on their decision to contribute to the CFI.
However, another funder, Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), acknowledged that it had funded Im Tirtzu and warned that actions taken by organizations have an impact on CUFI’s “… process of deciding which groups to fund,” CUFI spokesperson Ari Morgenstern told the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) on 2 February.
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