“Foundations promoting ‘brand Israel’ also funding Islamophobia”
What do Canary Mission, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer’s and Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative or Stop Islamization of America, the U.S. Tea Party and David Yerushalmi’s American Freedom Law Center all have in common? They are all funded by various chapters of mainstream Jewish federations across the U.S. and theSF Diller Foundation.
In the past I wrote an article for the American Studies Journal and I estimated that 70 percent of the funding for Islamophobia propaganda comes from pro-Israel or Zionist sources; now the evidence of this is slowly emerging. To date, the single-largest expenditure to push Islamophobia in the U.S. came in the form of the Clarion Fund paying upward of $17 million to produce and distribute 28 million copies of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West” in the run-up to the 2008 elections. This Clarion Fund expenditure was followed by another for the more Islamophobically horrific documentary, “The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America,” framing the American Muslim community civic engagement programs as a threat to the country that collectively could not be trusted. The recent reports on the San Francisco Jewish Federation and the Diller Foundation funding for the granddaddies of the Islamophobia Industry make the initial estimates very conservative.
An Oct. 3, 2018 article by Josh Nathan-Kazis titled “REVEALED: Canary Mission Blacklist Is Secretly Bankrolled by Major Jewish Federation” published in the The Forward, a politically progressive publication read by American Jews, uncovered evidence that all the above major Islamophobic figures and groups received direct funding from San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation and the Diller Foundation. Examining the tax returns from the 2014-2016 period, Josh Nathan-Kazis, pointed out that: “The federation’s support of Canary Mission connects the American Jewish establishment itself to a website that is facing increasing criticism from young Jews.” Canary Mission is a McCarthyite blacklisting operation that targets pro-Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) activists on college campuses to protect Israel’s brand in the U.S.
Critically, the outfits mentioned above all engage in the most despicable forms of Islamophobia and seek to demonize the American Muslim community. Funding for Geert Wilders, who pushes the most extreme anti-immigrant and xenophobic policies in the Dutch Parliament, is very disturbing and raises profound ethical and moral questions to the American Jewish community. In 2013, four members of Wilders’s Freedom Party “wore badges in Dutch Parliament … featuring a well-known neo-Nazi insignia that has links to the country’s infamous National Socialist Movement of the 1930s.” Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Wilders for an official visit to Israel but for the Diller Foundation to provide funding for a known neo-Nazi sympathizer and his party is an unforgivable act considering the current rise of white nationalist groups domestically and across the globe.
Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative, or Stop the Islamization of America, was responsible for framing the community center in New York City as the “ground zero mosque” and led the 2010 campaign against it. More importantly, Geller’s bus ads in the past few years across the country generated the most insidious forms of Islamophobia in a supposed effort to protect Israel’s standing. Furthermore, Geller’s outlandish forms of Islamophobia included hosting a “draw the prophet of Islam” cartoon competition, but it seems none of this disqualified her from receiving funding from the Diller Foundation.
In U.S. political landscape, David Yerushalmi’s American Freedom Law Center has played a very insidious role in demonizing Muslims through the sponsorship of countless anti-Sharia legislation. For the Diller Foundation and Jewish federations across the country to fund such an outfit that targets Muslims is yet another stab at the Muslim community, which took place while interfaith efforts were underway across the country. What is the purpose of promoting interfaith relations if major funding agencies for the American Jewish community are engaged in the wholesale funding of Islamophobic groups and individuals? Interfaith dialogue is meaningless and insulting if funding Islamophobic groups is undertaken within the same mainstream organizational infrastructure.
I have reviewed detailed tax returns from multiple Jewish federations across the country and was shocked by what I found. Yes, the Jewish Federation and Diller Foundation handed out many grants and funded projects undertaken by community groups, organizations and universities, which are all worthwhile and inspiring considering the commitment and commendable high levels of generosity regularly demonstrated. However, the funding directed at Islamophobic groups, Geert Wilders’s neo-Nazi Freedom Party, the U.S. Tea Party and others, stains and undermines the good that is done.
The issue at hand is the split personality of the organized American Jewish community which can be seen on one hand as generosity, building hospitals, funding schools, liberal political positions and offering support in defense of civil rights for all. However, on the other hand, the same community groups acting on behalf of Zionism and seeking to protect Israel’s interests can exhibit the most reactionary and racist discourse when it comes to Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and their allies.
The issue of Palestine causes the American Jewish community to pursue strategies and policies that undermine and cross the ethical and moral boundaries of the community. Resorting to funding Islamophobia is a sign of failure and an admission that Israel as a brand is no longer defensible on merits alone. Demonizing BDS activists, targeting Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizers and defaming faculties on college campuses is behind all the efforts at rescuing Israel’s image and brand. Funding Wilders will not rescue the brand but will mar it further and lead most young Jewish Americans to seek a different and more meaningful future.
Jewish journalist and activists who exposed these contradictions are acting to uphold and express the highest ethical and moral ideals of the Jewish community and often are doing so in partnership with Palestinians and Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. Appealing and funding Islamophobia in the hope of saving Israel’s apartheid is a failed and failing policy, and no amount of grants or resources can rescue dying settler colonialism. The future belongs to Jews, Muslims and justice-loving people from all walks of life that are already crafting and envisioning a different tomorrow, one that is not wedded to securing a demographically engineered apartheid state.