Follow the Money: From Islamophobia to Israel Right or Wrong

Elly Bulkin & Donna Nevel

Posted Oct 9, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Follow the Money: From Islamophobia to Israel Right or Wrong

by Elly Bulkin & Donna Nevel

You don’t have to get more than a minute into Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2007) to begin to see how inextricably it ties Islamophobia to hardline Israeli policies [1]. Despite its initial disclaimer, the film demonizes all Muslims, and through explicit statements and rapid-fire images, makes clear the filmmaker’s view that there is a direct connection between Nazis and both Palestinians and Muslims. 

Obsession played a brief but high-profile role during the 2008 presidential election campaign when the Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs as a newspaper insert in swing states [2]. A few years later, Clarion’s The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America (2008)—about an Islamic enemy that, purportedly, “the government is too afraid to name”—made its own headlines with reports that the New York City Police Department had showed the film to nearly 1,500 police officers [3]. And in 2011, Clarion got still more attention when it issued its third big film, Iranium [4]. The film pushes the Israeli and neoconservative narrative about Iran’s nuclear program and the need for military action against Iran, using a “clash of civilizations” framework that attributes “unavoidable” conflict to fundamental cultural differences between Islamic and Western civilizations [5].

Obsession and The Third Jihad ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslim, civil rights and other groups. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) condemned Obsession for spreading “scurrilous accusations against Islam and Muslims,” while the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) denounced The Third Jihad as “blatantly anti-Muslim” [6]. Activists, researchers, and journalists have commented on Obsession’s mistranslations and The Third Jihad’s use of a “discredited conspiracy theory” [7]. They have also noted the films’ countless distortions and manipulations: benign images of Muslims at prayer made sinister by “scary music” and “repeated images of an Islamic flag flying over the White House”—“cherry picking . . . inflammatory images and splicing them together to create fear” [8].

But others, particularly supporters of Israel’s right-wing policies, found these films’ virulently anti-Muslim message to their liking. All three films have been effectively mainstreamed in the Jewish community, with local showings sponsored by such groups as Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Dallas Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and B’nai B’rith chapters [9]. Obsession has become a staple of David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Awareness” weeks on college campuses. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire supporter of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney—and a critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from the right—has distributed copies of Obsession to young people on Birthright-sponsored tours to Israel, a project he funds [10].

The Clarion filmmakers and their funders were using Islamophobia in the service of their vision of Israeli expansionism. Commenting on Iranium, journalists Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib analyze it within the context of The Third Jihad, Clarion’s previous movie. Each, they write, “portrays a clash of civilizations, suggests that Muslims value death over life, and portrays irrational hatred toward Israel and anti-Semitism as key to comprehending the anger and frustration voiced by Muslim countries against the United States. . . . [T]he formula for the Clarion Fund’s anti-Muslim propaganda is becoming more apparent with each new iteration” [11]. And particularly relevant to this article, the films reflect the worldview of almost all of the anti-Muslim ideologues, the funders of a nationwide Islamophobia network, and the right-wing pro-Israel groups that we discuss below.

Some of the activists and journalists critiquing the content of these films also followed the money to the Clarion Fund, especially for Obsession. Ferreting out its funders proved no easy task. While journalists were able to explain fairly easily that Clarion was behind the film and that an $18 million grant from Donors Capital made possible the election-year distribution of the Obsession DVDs, things got messy beyond that. The journalists’ difficulties arose primarily because Clarion has resisted even the most basic level of transparency. An offshoot of the Israel and U.S.-based Aish HaTorah, which supports militant Israeli settlers, Clarion has a “virtual,” rather than a physical, office in the United States and is not forthcoming about its connection with Aish, including having directors with ties to both groups [12]. Sometimes even the most diligent journalist had to just be lucky. An accountant’s error, for example, led Justin Elliott of Salon to learn the identity of the individual source of the huge Donors Capital grant for Obsession—a discovery that, despite IRS forms to the contrary, spokespeople for both the possible donor, Barre Seid, and for Donors Capital claimed to be untrue [13].

While some individuals who have followed the money behind Obsession and The Third Jihad made the obvious connections between the country’s leading Islamophobes (and their funders) and support for Israel’s occupation and right-wing policies, analyses and resources in liberal and mainstream publications only rarely mention these links [14]. This was the case, for instance, with the Center for American Progress’ Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, which has gotten considerable attention from the mainstream media and is a valuable work of investigative journalism on Islamophobia. CAP has hardly been alone in failing to make a connection between Islamophobia and Israel.

Our approach draws on the work of CAP in identifying the Islamophobes and their largest funders, as well as the work of those journalists who, on the trail of anti-Islam money, did not stop short when Israel was the logical next step. First, we look briefly at the connection between some of the leading anti-Muslim ideologues and right-wing pro-Israel politics. Then we provide an overview of the seven biggest funders of the “Islamophobia network,” as identified in Fear, Inc., and explore the links between these funders and groups in Israel and the United States with hardline Israel politics.

The Anti-Muslim Ideologues

As Fear, Inc. reports, one stream of funding, totaling more than $42.5 million, flows from several funders to a very influential circle of Islamophobia misinformation “experts” and their organizations [15]. What it doesn’t report, however, are the ways in which these individuals, funders, and organizations support hawkish groups and politics around Israel, often including the settler movement:

  • Frank Gaffney, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense who sees mosques as part of attempts to impose “Sharia law” in the United States, is a “contributing expert” to the Ariel Center for Applied Research, an Israeli research institute that reflects the hardline Likud position on Israeli security [16].

  • Daniel Pipes, who focuses on the “threat” of “lawful Islam” in the West, promotes student monitoring of professors on their campus for their views on “the Arab-Israeli conflict” and other topics [17] to ensure that they are not critical of Israel.

  • Robert Spencer, who co-founded Stop the Islamization of America, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group,and whose writing has been recommended by the FBI for training recruits, helped organize a 2010 “pro-Israel” rally that defined Israel as including all of “Judea and Samaria” [18].

  • Steven Emerson, who has opposed efforts to build mosques in Murfreesboro (Tennessee), Boston, and lower Manhattan and provides terrorism-related training to both private security professionals and military/government personnel, gave Israeli officials a “sneak preview” of his 1994 PBS film, Jihad in America, helping them “press their case with the [Clinton] administration—that Islam is our common enemy” [19].

  • The Clarion Fund, which we discuss above, has Gaffney and Pipes on its advisory board, while Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, and Pipes were among the talking heads in Obsession. Gaffney appeared in Iranium [20].

  • David Horowitz, who publishes anti-Muslim, anti-Arab pieces on his FrontPage magazine Web site, has maintained that “middle eastern Muslims are ‘Islamic Nazis’ who ‘want to kill Jews, that’s their agenda’” [21].

  • Brigitte Gabriel, whose Act! for America lobbies for state laws against the alleged threat of “Sharia law,” has defined “the difference . . . between Israel and the Arab world . . . [as] the difference between civilization and barbarism” [22].

These groups and individuals are important not just because they provide misinformation to Fox News and other media outlets, but because of the relationship many have with the U.S. government and the potential impact they have on U.S. domestic and foreign policy. This relationship is mutually beneficial. The ideologues provide government officials with “facts” that support domestic spying, profiling of Muslims, and foreign sanctions and interventions [23]. And the anti-Muslim ideologues increase their influence, credibility, and ability to rake in funding from the government and private funders by being able to publicize the “invaluable” service they provide to congressional committees and homeland security personnel. They also help provide a conceptual framework—Islamophobic and Israel-right-or-wrong—for neoconservatives and others within and outside government who are unequivocal supporters of U.S. intervention in majority-Muslim countries and of hardline Israeli policies. As Deepa Kumar has argued in Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, “the right-wing Islamophobes are not a fringe minority but rather part and parcel of the structures of mainstream American society” [24].

The Funders

Likewise, the primary funders of these anti-Muslim ideologues almost all sustain right-wing or militant groups in Israel (through U.S.-based conduits) or groups in the United States that promote ultra-Zionist policies and actively target those who critique, protest or even just dialogue or teach about those policies. Recent reviews of public documents have begun to reveal a great deal about the financial lifeblood of anti-Muslim organizations. Journalists have followed the money trail from Aubrey Chernick’s Fairbrook Foundation to a West Bank settlement and to U.S. groups bent on fomenting Islamophobia [25]. Writing about the Fairbrook Foundation in 2010, Max Blumenthal describes the financial connection between an Islamophobic crusade in the United States and “conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby” and “an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility. Central figures within this lobby “venerat[e] “the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urg[e] the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods” [26].

Fear, Inc. has identified the seven largest funders of eight of the most prominent groups in this country’s Islamophobia network between 2001 and 2009. Focusing on these seven funders, we reviewed their annual Internal Revenue Service 990 Forms from 2001 to 2010 and other summaries of data from those federal forms, which list grant recipients and amounts [27]. And we found substantial data indicating the financial links between these funders and U.S. (and, in some cases, Israeli) groups that have both an Islamophobic worldview and take an “Israel right or wrong position,” including support for the Israeli government’s expansionist settlement policy.





Donors Capital—$20,768,600


*Data from Fear, Inc., Center for American Progress

Of the seven biggest funders of the Islamophobic groups identified by Fear, Inc., the three largest—the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife foundations, and Donors Capital Fund—provided the overwhelming majority (82%) of this support, a total of more than $42.5 million.

  • Started by a cofounder of the far-right John Birch Society, the Bradley Foundation has been described as “a $460 million conservative honey pot dedicated to crushing the labor movement” in Wisconsin. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, between 2001 and 2009, it doled out “nearly as much money as all seven” foundations run by the Scaife family and the billionaire Koch brothers [28].

  • Another supporter of what political historian Alan J. Lichtman has called a “white Protestant nation” [29]. Scaife money comes primarily from the Mellon family’s oil and bank holdings. Like Bradley and Donors Capital, it funds groups that have long been the engine of the neo-conservative movement in the United States, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Heritage Foundation. Among the multiple think tanks that Scaife helps fund is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose right-wing pro-Likud and anti-Iran advocacy attracts support from funders who are less neo-conservative and more Israel-focused than Scaife [30]. The Scaife Foundations’ only foray into funding Jewish political groups involved grants ($300,000) to the American Jewish Committee for “publication support” of Commentary, the Jewish neoconservative magazine.

  • While Donors Capital, the mega-funder of the Obsession DVD, makes grants that reflect a commitment to “limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” its role as a donor-advised fund, under no legal obligation to reveal to the public the names of individual or corporate donors, contributes to its reputation as “secretive” [31].




Anchorage/Rosenwald— $2,818,229




*Data from Fear, Inc., Center for American Progress

All four of the other funders of Islamophobia identified by Fear, Inc. have ties with the organized Jewish community. Different from the trio of Bradley, Donors Capital, and Scaife, these four funders mention Jewish life or Israel in their mission statements, have principals affiliated with Jewish organizations, and/or fund Jewish religious, educational, political, and communal groups. The principals of three of these foundations are or have been affiliated with groups with militant Israeli politics [32].

  • When CPA-test prep and alternative energy maven Newton Becker of the Newton D. and Rochelle F. Becker Foundation/Becker Family Foundation/Becker Charitable Trust, died early in 2012, the Israeli settlers’ publication Arutz Sheva published a glowing obituary. The news outlet quoted two of the right-wing pro-Israel groups that we discuss below, lauding Becker as “a mensch” and “a giant in pro-Israel philanthropy” [33]. He has, we found, given more than $650,000 between 2006 and 2010 to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, a pillar of the Jewish establishment; according to the Center for American Progress, the federation gave the Clarion Fund, purveyor of vehemently anti-Muslim, pro-Israel propaganda, $75,000 between 2008 and 2009 [34].

  • The Anchorage Charitable Fund/William Rosenwald Family Fund was started by liberal philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the founder of Sears. Carried on by a son who helped found the United Jewish Appeal in 1939, it has since passed into the hands of a third generation. This includes Elizabeth Varet and her sister Nina Rosenwald—a former member of the AIPAC board, whom Max Blumenthal describes as “the sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate” [35]. (Fear, Inc. reports that Anchorage/Rosenfeld took a hit from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal, resulting in a significant drop in charitable contributions [36].)

  • The Fairbrook Foundation is run by Aubrey and Joyce Chernick. Aubrey, a former trustee of the hawkish, neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy (an AIPAC-affiliated think tank where the Islamophobia network’s Daniel Pipes is an adjunct scholar) who helped start the staunchly pro-Israel Pajamas Media blog, which was part of the vocal anti-Muslim opposition to Park51 (the lower Manhattan cultural center and mosque) [37]. Our review of Fairbrook’s 990 forms indicated that it gave more than $5.5 million to the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles between 2005 and 2010.

  • The Russell Berrie Foundation is different from the other three Jewish funders: Angelica Berrie, widow of its founder, is board chair not of AIPAC or another hawkish pro-Israel group, but of the Shalom Hartman Institute-North America, which supports religious pluralism in Israel [38]. However, according to its 990 Forms from 2010 (a year not covered by Fear, Inc.), Berrie gave more than $820,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the project of the Islamophobia network’s Steven Emerson.

Any discussion of funding from Becker and Fairbrook is limited by their failure to always include basic information about their grantees—like their names—on their federal forms. Becker sometimes lists non-U.S. grantees only as being in the “Middle East/North Africa,” and the far-right Fairbrook Foundation reports some grants to U.S.-based recipients by state and amount, but not by name or other identifier. Their apparently intentional lack of transparency makes it impossible to know the extent of their backing for Israeli settlements and for groups in the United States that support the Israeli government’s hardline positions. (Because the Berrie Foundation’s 2008 federal 990 Form did not include a list of grantees, we can provide only incomplete information about its funding.)

Funding Israeli Settlements

Of the seven funders of the Islamophobia network, three of the four Jewish funders also provided financial support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank through grants to U.S.-based organizations, while one of these three backed former settlers in Gaza. These three—Becker, Anchorage/Rosenwald, and Fairbrook—clearly view supporting the Israeli settler movement as compatible with their organizational missions. Settlements are in violation of international law, specifically of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying country from moving its citizens into the occupied area as residents. Support for the settlements by U.S.-based funders, even when relatively modest, supplements the very substantial financial support, direct or indirect, of the Israeli government [39].



Anchorage/Rosenwald— $36,000



The settlement movement—and apparently the three Jewish funders who back them—consider Palestinians merely as an obstacle to achieving Jewish sovereignty over all of what they call “Judea and Samaria.” These funders have funneled large amounts of money through the New York-based Central Fund of Israel, which funds, among others, the West Bank Yitzhar settlement, whose rabbi has “said it is permissible to kill gentile babies because of ‘the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents’” [40]. Its senior rabbis have encouraged students to “engage in illegal, subversive, and violent activities against Arabs and the Israeli security force” [41].







Aish Hatorah—$49,000

American Friends of Kedumim—$30,000

American Friends of Ateret


Friends of Gush Katif—$50,000

In addition, the Fairbrook Foundation has funded—through Aish Hatorah and American Friends of Kedumim—armed northern West Bank settlements near Yitzhar with members of the ultra-right Gush Emunim settlement movement [42]. Fairbrook also supports, among others, Ateret Cohanim, whose “Jerusalem Reclamation project” involves purchasing property in the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem, renovating buildings, and moving in yeshiva families; and the residents of the former Gaza settlement of Gush Katif, now living in Israel, whose homes the Israeli army emptied and demolished in 2005 [43].













Perhaps no West Bank settlement is as clearly a “fact on the ground” as Ariel. Routinely described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others as the “‘capital of Samaria’ and an ‘indisputable’ part of Israel” [44]. Ariel is deep in the West Bank. Its 19,000 residents have access to a performing arts center, the Ariel University Center, and plenty of clean water, while Ariel wastewater, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, periodically pollutes the water supply and land of local Palestinians [45]. The American Friends of Ariel has received grants from the Becker family and the Fairbrook Foundation, which, though nominal for such foundations, demonstrates support for this mega-settlement.

While Fairbrook is clearly the most hardline of the four Jewish funders, three of them also back the Central Fund of Israel, and Becker, not just Fairbrook, supports the Ariel settlement. This illustrates, as Philip Weiss has written about Becker and other donors to the Central Fund, “how deeply enmeshed in mainstream [Jewish] American organizational life the settlement program is” [46].

Funding Hasbara Groups, Hawks and Christian Zionists

We found that six of the seven funders of Islamophobia network organizations (all except Scaife) have also funded multiple organizations that back, and oppose any criticism of hawkish Israeli policies. These groups are engaged in propaganda (“hasbara”) initiatives designed to justify Israeli government policies and actions, including continued expansionism, and to defend Israel by improving its image around the world. For these groups and their constituents, Islamophobia complements hardline Israel politics. As Middle East policy analyst Matthew Duss wrote a year before the publication of the Fear, Inc. Islamophobia report that he co-authored, “As long as Jews are encouraged to believe that scary Muslims are hiding under every American bed, the idea is perpetuated that support for the Jewish state is a zero-sum contest between favoring Israel and favoring Arabs and Muslims. For too many American Jews, smearing Islam is seen as a legitimate expression of Zionism” [47].

Many of the right-wing Zionist groups, their projects, and their funders smear Islam and are part of the organized Jewish community. CAMERA and the Zionist Organization of America, for example, are part of local Jewish Community Relations Councils. The David Project, as Max Blumenthal has noted, emerged from a meeting in the early 2000s “of such mainstream Jewish groups as the ADL, American Jewish Committee, and AIPAC, to address what they perceived as an increase in pro-Palestinian campus activism” [48]. The David Project is a partner agency of Hillel, which serves “Jewish Campus Life” at over 500 colleges and universities [49]. The Zionist Organization of America lobbied hard from within to push the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA), organized Jewry’s main domestic-focused umbrella group, to adopt a resolution supporting the use of civil rights legislation against campus critics of Israeli policies [50]. The Israel Campus Beat is a project of both the Israel Coalition on Campus (a Berrie grantee) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations [51].

Six of the seven funders of the Islamophobia network support hardline Zionist, Jewish neoconservative and Christian Zionist groups. We look briefly here at a few of these.







The oldest of these groups is the 115-year-old Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which bills itself as “the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States” [52]. Its president, Morton Klein, sides with the ideologically anti-Muslim and pro-settler coterie. ZOA leaders see Palestinians as having a “shocking difference in values from ours in America and the West” [53]. ZOA has co-sponsored “pro-Israel” rallies with and sponsored a talk by Pamela Geller, co-founder of the anti-Muslim hate group Stop the Islamization of America [54]., who has recently run ads on public buses and subways that characterize the Israel-Palestine conflict as a “war between the civilized man and the savage” [55]. ZOA’s Klein is on the “International Board of Governors of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, Israel” (which is actually on the West Bank, in the occupied territories) [56].









The David Project was a product of the mainstream Jewish community, although founder Charles Jacobs has since taken to attacking that community for its alleged lack of vigilance in fighting what he sees as the “Islamic anti-Semitism and Islamist penetration of American Society” [57]. “One of the many outfits bankrolled” by the Fairbrook Foundation, the David Project helped foment an eventually unsuccessful, multi-year Islamophobic smear campaign to prevent the construction of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and Mosque [58].










Donors Capital—$500,000


Jacobs also co-founded CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, which monitors what it views as anti-Israel bias in the media and consistently works to shut down any criticism of Israel and to attack its critics. David Steinmann, president of the Rosenwald Family Fund, is a former executive board member for CAMERA.

The Israel Project (TIP) has supplied resources advancing a right-wing pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian narrative to journalists, policymakers, and others. Islamophobia network member Frank Gaffney is included in its long list of speakers. In July 2009, TIP posted a manual online that urged pro-settlement advocates to accuse their opponents of supporting “a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews” from the West Bank [59].







Anchorage/Rosenwald— $11,000

A month later,  under criticism, they withdrew that wording [60]. Shortly after Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann talked about the “Palestinian culture of hate” during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries (and Gingrich described Palestinians as an “invented” people), TIP issued a “fact” sheet to support such views [61]. TIP’s focus until now has been on public relations and information that promote Israeli government policies. This may change with the August 2012 appointment of a new CEO, Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesperson with a reputation as a “pro-Israel bulldog” [62]. Nathan Guttman of the Jewish Daily Forward has described Block as “eager to take on [Israel’s] detractors — especially those within the Democratic Party, the foreign policy community and even Jewish circles — who veer off the unofficial though well-defined mainstream pro-Israel road” [63] Until his 2012 death, Newton Becker of the Becker Family Foundation was on the TIP Board of Directors. Its Board of Advisors currently includes 16 senators and 22 congressional representatives [64].






Anchorage/Rosenwald— $80,000


Along with monitoring and trying to shape media coverage of Israel, some of these groups have been using legal challenges as a strategy to silence critics of Israeli policies. The Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR), for example, which documents what it calls “anti-Israelism,” has pushed for a (still pending) U.S. Education Department Office of Civil Rights investigation into whether, by ignoring “campus speech critical of Israel or Zionism,” University of California Santa Cruz administrators were “creating a hostile climate for Jewish people on the campus” [65].

The ramifications of this case reached deep into the mainstream Jewish community. The IJCR, Zionist Organization of America, and other adamantly pro-Israel Jewish groups urged the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) to support a resolution that supports the use of federal civil rights law to protect Jewish students from criticism of Israel, which they equated with anti-Semitism. It took eight months of controversy within the JCPA for this multi-constituent umbrella group to reach a decision. Ultimately it endorsed the use of “federal law to counter anti-Semitism on American college campuses,” “while recognizing “‘the importance of the First Amendment’” and stating that federal law “should not be invoked ‘when it could lead to an environment in which legitimate debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is squelched and academic freedom is undermined’” [66].






StandWithUs/Israel Emergency Alliance illustrates as well as any of these groups, the lack of daylight between it and the Israeli government. StandWithUs pursued its legal strategy in collaboration with the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest when it targeted a food coop whose members had voted to protest Israeli policies by opting not to carry Israeli products [67]. A judge has dismissed the lawsuit as violating “protected free speech involving an issue of public concern” and held StandWithUs “liable for the costs and fees of the suit and $160,000 in statutory damages” [68]. The group’s general attitude toward Palestinians is reflected in its Permalink