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Im Tirzu becomes a right-wing liability (and sparks a neocon-theocon proxy war?)

August 24, 2010 6 comments

Ronen Shoval, Im Tirzu Chairman

Im Tirzu apparently overplayed its hand when it went after Ben Gurion University (BGU). Even the usually timid heads of the Israeli academe felt they had to react: Their institutions were under threat. One by one they gave interviews and published op-eds. As Hebrew University’s Avner de-Shalit writes in this morning’s Haaretz, these students have simply gone too far:

But now the cat is out of the bag. Im Tirtzu is no longer calling for changes in curriculum content; it is waging an ugly political battle over staffing: It wants the lecturers replaced.

The movement’s campaign has thus undergone an enormous shift. At first, it complained of (leftist) political considerations in the appointment of lecturers and said this must not be permitted. Now, it says (rightist) political considerations should govern the appointment of lecturers.

De-Shalit is careful, however, to frame his criticism patriotically and to imply that they have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (!):

Moreover, Im Tirtzu prides itself on its Zionist orientation. This writer is also a Zionist, and proud of it. But Zionism, like any national movement, has different shades and expressions. And Im Tirtzu’s shade appears to be blatantly anti-patriotic. Instead of being proud of the scholarly achievements of Israeli researchers, the movement is threatening to stop donations by Jews abroad.

Maybe this is a Zionist act, according to their understanding of Zionism, but it is certainly not a patriotic one. In practice, Im Tirtzu is joining those who call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Shaul Mofaz, a populist former IDF Chief of Staff and current rival for the leadership of Kadima, is also patriotically appalled: “Im Tirzu thugs” went after BGU’s funding. From an op-ed in this morning’s Maariv [full text translation at bottom of post; Hebrew original here]:

The members of this organization clearly love the State of Israel. They speak of Zionism with sparkling eyes and are prepared to fight for it. But the main difference between them and the folks of the university is precisely the main difference between Ben-Gurion and others who speak daily about the importance of settling the Negev: they spoke, he acted. So one moment before somebody rushes on a journey to stop the donations from America, he or she will be better off undertaking a Zionist act and going for a journey across the Negev. The journey will end with a tour of the university. Anyone seeing and getting to know this glorious and important institution will realize that no lecturer, as anti-Zionist as he or she may be, can bring it down. The most important and powerful Zionist movement in Israel today includes more than twenty thousand students, and it both researches and creates social involvement. It’s name is Ben-Gurion University.

Hagee

This is too much for Pastor Hagee, a major Im Tirzu funder (and, the Jerusalem Post reports this morning, also a contributor to BGU) and he drops them like a stone:

“Im Tirtzu misrepresented its focus when they told us their mission was strictly Zionist education,” Ari Morgenstern, the spokesman for JHM [John Hagee Ministries], said.

“We had no prior knowledge of Im Tirtzu’s political actions and we never seek to involve ourselves in Israel’s internal political debate.”

Has this sparked a kind of American conservative donor proxy war? Shuki Balas of Latma, Caroline Glick’s Hasbara outfit, which is funded by Frank Gaffney‘s neoconservative Center for Security Policy does not mince words to describe what he thinks of the Christian Zionist leader (emphasis mine):

Following the storm, the central funder of the Im Tirzu movement has stopped the flow of funds [link in original to Hebrew version]. Let’s ignore, for now, the repeated lie that Im Tirzu demanded the dismissal of lecturers at Ben Gurion University, and that they were critical of “left-wing bias” when their letter talked about “right-wing bias”. Natasha Mozgoviya [Haaretz's DC correspondent] that Preacher John Hagee, the same one who was called “marginal”, “extremist”, “apocalyptic” and many other compliments, will stop his contributions to Im Tirzu. (In my opinion, that’s a good thing and it’s about time.) But this seems proof that Im Tirzu’s agenda, in contrast to what left says in its criticism, is incompatible with the agenda of the infamous Hagee.

Only in Israel, as they say.

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Im Tirtzu thugs

Op-ed, Shaul Mofaz, Maariv, August 24 2010

Settling the Negev has always  been one of the guiding principles of the Zionist movement. The man to have exalted this principle more than all others was David Ben-Gurion, the most wise and Zionist leader the state could have sought. Ben-Gurion viewed the settlement of the Negev as a primary social, economic, and national undertaking. Contrary to those who speak eloquently about values and Zionism but in practice do nothing, Ben-Gurion acted according on his belief and joined Kibbutz Sde Boker.

Recently an organization called Im Tirtzu has begun a tough campaign directed against the university named after Ben-Gurion. This organization has even informed the university’s president Prof. Rivka Carmi that in the event that she fails to dismiss faculty members with “left wing agendas” it will approach foreign investors and ensure that they cut off their donations to the university. This organization has been conducting its campaign in the name of Zionism. In the name of Zionism it is threatening to harm one of Zionism’s most beautiful, important and successful enterprises in Israel.

Ben-Gurion University and the adjacent Soroka Hospital are among Israel’s most successful and great institutions. The university is the main reason that youth leave central Israel and move to the Negev. The university conducts extensive and invaluable social activity among Israel’s southern communities. Beer Sheva’s university students are the most socially active, the most familiar with their communities and involved in them.

I am not familiar with these youths of the Im Tirtzu movement. It may be fairly presumed that they are indeed conducting their activity with the profound belief in the justice of their ways and love for the State of Israel. I believe, truly and honestly, that Israeli lecturers who publish articles that call for an academic boycott on Israel are unworthy of academic posts that are financed by the Israeli taxpayer. But from here to attacking Ben-Gurion University and to employ thuggery that may jeopardize the very existence of the university and its students, the distance is great. Very great.

The donations received by the universities are used for research and development. Many students from southern Israel study at the university for whom it is the only possibility to pursue studies in a top ranking institution and still remain in their parents’ home. The donations also help create scholarships for poor students. Anyone with clear vision can see that such a process [attacking the university] spells throwing out the baby together with the bath water, and causing damage to a great many people. These students are the ones who hear the very lecturers against whom Im Tirtzu’s campaign ranted. Some of them are no less Zionist than the members of Im Tirtzu. Most of them served in the army, continue to serve in the reserves and care about Israel. They understand no less than many of us the essence of Zionism, as they live in the Negev on a daily basis. Does anyone believe that these students lack the ability to tell right from wrong? Does anyone believe that some delusional lecturer like Niv Gordon will cause this or that student to stop doing reserve duty? Are Im Tirtzu the only Zionists left out there? The answer is no. Unequivocally no.

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Hudson Inst primary financial backer of NGO behind campaign to purge Israeli universities of “leftists”

August 19, 2010 29 comments

Shira Beery provided significant research for this post.

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Newly uncovered documentation reveals that The Hudson Institute, an influential and activist neoconservative think-tank, has provided nearly $500,000 to the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), an Israeli NGO at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to purge Israeli Universities of faculty and programs deemed “left-wing.” The grants represent more than half of the IZS’s total reported multi-year funding and position Hudson as the organization’s largest donor.

In addition, the documents indicate that Hudson provided $600,000 to The Atlantic Forum of Israel, an opaque, security-oriented, organization founded by the Israeli National Security Adviser, Uzi Arad, and run by him until last year.

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Partisan pressure on the Israeli academe has been building up for a few months, but came to a head over the past few days. Much of the public’s attention has focused on Im Tirzu’s blunt threat to go after the funding of Ben Gurion University unless it acts immediately to remove “post-Zionist” faculty from its Political Science Department. The week began, however, with a report that the President of Tel-Aviv University was examining the syllabi of his institution’s Sociology Department, following advocacy by the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), a right-wing organization established by settler leader Israel Harel (profiled by Coteret here). In an article in this morning’s Haaretz, Or Kashti asserts that the two events, and the NGOs behind them, are closely related:

Im Tirtzu chairman Ronen Shoval and the organization’s spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, took part in a Young Leadership program run by the Institute for Zionist Strategies several years ago, seemingly contradicting the two men’s earlier assertion that they were not acting in concert with the institute in their public campaign against the “anti-Zionist bias” in Israeli universities.

[...]

The IZS report on sociology departments is reminiscent of Im Tirtzu’s report on political science departments. Not only is the methodology of the two reports identical (an examination of syllabi and a classification of lecturers into categories such as “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” ), but the conclusions they reached about the state of Israeli academia are similar.

Until the final months of 2009, both Im Tirzu and the IZS were nearly unknown in the Israeli public sphere and, until now, their sources of funding have remained obscure. On Wednesday, Calcalist, a business daily published by Yediot, revealed that Christian Zionist John Hagee’s CUFI had channeled $120,000 to Im Tirzu through the Houston Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency [a full translation of article can be read here, courtesy of Judaism Without Borders.]

Previously unpublished documents, analyzed in this post, demonstrate that The Hudson Institute, a major Washington based neoconservative think-tank, which played an active role in shaping the Bush administration’s Middle East policies, has been the largest financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of the NGO’s total multi-year funding and dwarfing all other sources.

Hudson Institute form 990 for 2007

Hudson’s form 990 report to the IRS for 2006 (page 17) states that the institute transferred $230,000 in the previous tax year to “support Israeli public policy research.” Form 990 for 2007 (last page) states that a further $256,185 were transferred in the previous tax year for “consulting/research.”

According to the IZS’s own reports to the Israeli Registrar of Associations, the Hudson Institute provided 100% of the organization’s external funding in 2006 — $105,881[1] — and 2007 — $325,462[2]. External funding for 2008 (the last year reported) was $50,351[3], coming exclusively from a rather bizarre source: The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF)[4].

The IZS was established at the end of 2004 (registration document here). Its 2006 financial report states that donations worth $431,597[5] were received in 2005. The Hudson Institute’s form 990 for 2005 does not provide details of external grants. Therefore, confirming that it was also behind these funds requires the IZS’s 2005 report, which Coteret has not yet obtained. Even if this year is discounted, however, Hudson has provided over 53% of IZS’s total reported funding and is its largest donor.

Wurmser

Instead of detailing its grants in the 2005 report, Hudson provides a narrative report of its programs, broken down by the resident scholar responsible for their implementation. On page 23, under “Planned Projects” for Senior Fellow Meyrav Wurmser (if the name does not strike a bell, I encourage you to follow the link), of the institute’s Center for Middle East Policy, appears a brief description that may hint at the purpose of the institute’s support for the IZS (emphasis mine):

IZS financial report for 2007

The Hudson Institute’s involvement in controversial and partisan battles in the Israeli public sphere is legitimate. What is not is the fact that it is hidden from the public eye. The organizations share information on their financial relationship with their respective regulators but not with the general public. Both the IZS and the Hudson websites do not mention the organizations’ connection. In Hebrew, the IZS site simply states that its funding is “private.” In English, it refers potential donors to a newly established (it has registered but not yet filed with the IRS) US charity,  “Friends of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.” Indeed, identifying and documenting this connection required many days of work spread over the better part of a year.

In this context, at the same time the assault on pluralism in the Israeli academe intensified this week, the “NGO Transparency Law” — a thinly veiled attempt to suppress Israeli human rights groups — was making headway in the Knesset (probably not coincidentally, the IZS godfathered the bill along with Gerald Steinberg’s NGO Monitor.) Writing in this morning’s Jerusalem post, Hagai El-Ad, Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) observes:

In recent months Israelis have witnessed an unprecedented barrage of anti-democratic campaigns, from Im Tirzu to the Land of Israel Forum. All of these campaigns are funded by unknown sources.

[...]

It is the funding of those wishing to silence Israel’s human rights groups that is hidden from the public.

Arad

It appears that the Hudson Institute’s opaque involvement in Israeli affairs is not limited to “democracy” issues and encompasses high-level geopolitics as well. Its form 990 for 2007 (last page) reports on the transfer of $600,000 to the “Atlantic Forum of Israel” in the previous tax year. Trying to understand what this organization does is no easy task. Its website is “under construction”. The website of the (now defunct) American Jewish Congress explains that it is Israel’s official non-governmental representative” to NATO. An October 2009 article in Haaretz reports that Uzi Arad resigned as President of the Forum before assuming the position of Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser. The Saban Forum 2007 itinerary (page 9) adds that Arad founded the NGO.

Why is this significant? It may not be, but there are any number of important reasons why this information should be fully in the public domain and subject to further scrutiny. Consider this one, for example:

  • The question of whether Israel should attack Iran and whether the US should support such a move is very tangibly on the (publicly perceived, at least) policy agenda of both governments.
  • Numerous Hudson Institute scholars, past and present, have taken very hawkish positions on this question (see this very recent article for one example.)
  • Uzi Arad has publicly articulated his (hawkish) position on the issue.
  • The Hudson Institute recently provided an opaque, security-oriented, NGO founded by Uzi Arad and, until last year, run by him, with over half a million dollars of funding.
  • The Hudson Institute is a central component of an active and ideological neoconservative opposition to the foreign and security policy of the current US President; Uzi Arad serves as National Security Adviser to the current Israeli Prime Minister.

The facts listed above may be unrelated. That cannot be confirmed, however, without full disclosure. All involved (and given what’s at stake, that includes you and me) have an interest in moving that process forward.

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Footnotes

  1. NIS 471,858 at an average yearly exchange rate of 4.4565. Click here to view original report, data on page numbered 8.
  2. NIS 1,337,031 at an average yearly exchange rate of 4.1081. Click here to view original report, data on pages numbered 3 and 7.
  3. NIS 180,650 at an average yearly exchange rate of 3.5878. Click here to view original report, data on pages numbered 3 and 7.
  4. A UK  charity “founded in 1865 and is the oldest organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant.” Its grants, however, are made to individual researchers, and the 2008 grant list does not mention the IZS or anyone associated with it.
  5. NIS 1,936,922 at average yearly exchange rate of 4.4878. Click here to view original report, data on page numbered 3.

Knesset outsources US campus public diplomacy to militant Christian Zionists

August 15, 2010 7 comments

An article in this morning’s Yediot (full translated text at the bottom of this post) reports that that a bi-partisan group of MKs has partnered with a Christian Zionist organization to recruit evangelical students to represent Israel on US campuses:

MKs who are members of the lobby to promote relations with Christian communities around the world, concluded that the best response to the powerful show of force put on by Muslim students on campuses overseas could not be provided by the Jewish students but, rather, by the Christian students, who are no less eager to help Israel.

The lobby, which is headed by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), began finding and training Christian students in prestigious universities and colleges in North America and Europe. The goal is to establish non-Jewish support groups for Israel on each campus so as to have the Israeli position presented.

The lobby, in which dozens of MKs from various parties are members, is considered to be one of the most active lobbies in the Knesset. Members of the lobby contacted the Evangelist organization, Eagles’ Wings, which helped them locate suitable students overseas. The prospective members  must have good skills at oral and written presentation, and an ability to appear before an audience. Thus far some 150 students have been found, and the goal is to train 30 additional students every year. The “ambassadors” undergo training in Israeli public relations, they visit Israel and meet with politicians, academics and  Israeli diplomats. The most recent group, which was comprised of 15 Christian students, finished its tour of Israel just ten days ago.

Coteret has been following the “Tea Partying of the US-Israel relationship“: The growing identification of Israel with the radical, neocon and theocon, right-wing of the Republican Party. However, this seems to be the first instance semi-official public representation by one of these groups.

The partner organization, Eagles’ Wings, has a very clear agenda for its cooperation with Israel: Religious warfare.

To pretend that the civilized world does not face a serious threat at the hands of militant Islam is the willing blinding of oneself to obvious and imminent danger. Proof is in abundance around the world. Militant Islam is dedicated to global conquest and the destruction of Israel, America, and the West. Its adherents are daily sacrificing their children as homicide bombers to accomplish their aim. To pretend by its attack on Judeo-Christian ethics, that our radicalized secular society is not allowing the expansion of this very force of Islam (which will then ultimately turn on the secularists), is to be culturally and historically illiterate and to refuse to see reality. But at this moment, a spiritually complacent Western church seems unaware or in denial of the twin threats to the future of Western civilization – radical Islam and militant secular humanism.

Stearns

Indeed, its Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Robert Stearns, endorsed a “Never Again Rally”  organized by the militant Stop Islamization of America (SOIA) to stop construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” This is an issue that has split the US Jewish community, with most non-Orthodox Jews unambiguously on the other side of the controversy. Israeli leaders’ insensitivity to the sensibilities of most  Jewish-Americans should not come as a surprise, however. After all, the Knesset lobby behind this initiative is headed by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), author of the explosive Conversion Law, who recently told the New York Times that:

“They [Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders] are acting like absolute idiots.”

Stearns, by the way, is also Director of Region 10 (Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York)  of Pastor Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a financial supporter of Im Tirzu, the organization behind the recent smear campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF).

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Israel’s Christian ambassadors

Tzvika Brott, Yediot, August 15 2010 [page 14; Hebrew original here and at the bottom of the post]

In recent years, Israeli politicians have been forced to curtail lectures they give in universities overseas, and in some cases even to cancel them altogether because of the disruptions caused by pro-Palestinian students. Now, some MKs believe, a solution has been found.

MKs who are members of the lobby to promote relations with Christian communities around the world, concluded that the best response to the powerful show of force put on by Muslim students on campuses overseas could not be provided by the Jewish students but, rather, by the Christian students, who are no less eager to help Israel.

The lobby, which is headed by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), began finding and training Christian students in prestigious universities and colleges in North America and Europe. The goal is to establish non-Jewish support groups for Israel on each campus so as to have the Israeli position presented.

The lobby, in which dozens of MKs from various parties are members, is considered to be one of the most active lobbies in the Knesset. Members of the lobby contacted the Evangelist organization, Eagles’ Wings, which helped them locate suitable students overseas. The prospective members  must have good skills at oral and written presentation, and an ability to appear before an audience. Thus far some 150 students have been found, and the goal is to train 30 additional students every year. The “ambassadors” undergo training in Israeli public relations, they visit Israel and meet with politicians, academics and  Israeli diplomats. The most recent group, which was comprised of 15 Christian students, finished its tour of Israel just ten days ago.

“When you send a Jewish student to defend Israel, people say straight away that he isn’t objective,” said MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), who is a member of the lobby. “Conversely, when a large group of Christian students comes and presents the truth about Israel from the perspective of a non — Jewish person — that Israel is not a militaristic country but is a progressive and high-tech country — that has a redoubled public relations impact.”

Thus far, pro-Israel groups have been established at Oxford University in England, Amsterdam University in Holland, Berkeley, Georgetown and University of Florida in the United States, as well as at two prestigious colleges in the United States. “This initiative has the potential of changing the trend in Israel’s favor on campuses across the United States and Europe,” said Josh Reinstein, the chairman of the lobby.

Read more…

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