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President Obama should be wary of Netanyahu’s American friends

Right-wing lobbyists and charities supporting Islamophobia and armed settlers are tied to the prime minister's Likud party

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be visiting Washington this week in an attempt to repair his government’s relations with the Obama administration, which soured after his controversial congressional address to lobby against the nuclear agreement with Iran. That and his subsequent efforts to torpedo the deal have angered many in Washington.

Indeed, the bitterly vicious tone of the anti-Iran deal campaign by Netanyahu and American pro-Israel groups, which largely targeted Democrats, has created new and unprecedented partisan tensions in Washington’s relations with Israel. “The problem is the campaign was so intense that it has left scars that are difficult to heal,” Greg Rosenbaum, chairperson of the National Jewish Democratic Council, recently told The New York Times.

But despite the rising tensions, it is unlikely that Israeli-American relations will truly suffer any time soon. Although Netanyahu is increasingly criticised for his extreme right-wing agenda - his refusal to halt settlement construction and unwillingness to accept a Palestinian state - he will likely backtrack, once again, to say soothing things about peace to the White House. Obama will listen to what he needs to hear; however, a simple look at the American friends of Netanyahu would tell a totally different story.

The American Friends of Likud, based in New York, is a primary example. Of course, Likud is the right-wing party that Netanyahu heads, and the American Friends of Likud is only one of hundreds of “Friends of” Israel organisations in the US - all 501c3 tax-exempt charities raising funds to send to their parent organisations in Israel. Public Interest Investigations will soon be publishing a report on these and other charitable organisations funding the occupation.

In 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported that the American Friends of Likud issued a press release under the headline: “Obama administration embarrasses Americans when it humiliates allies and shows weakness toward enemies.” The press release went on to defend Netanyahu’s decision to build 1,600 illegal housing units in occupied east Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighbourhood and accused Obama of overreacting to it.

According to the newspaper: “American Friends of Likud describes itself as a Jewish-American educational organisation and stresses that it is not connected to the Israeli Likud Party or the Prime Minister’s Office. But two of the organisation’s former directors in Israel, Ari Harow and Rivka Kidron, are currently advisers to Netanyahu.” Furthermore, its tax forms state that the organisation “maintains unparalleled access” to Likud ministers.

US charities subsidising Likud campaign

Its charity status means that, despite the horror that many Washington officials feigned when Netanyahu pledged in March 2015 that there would never be a Palestinian nation under his watch, American taxpayers still subsidised his election campaign. And if anybody has any doubt about what kind of political programme Netanyahu really promotes, then a simple examination of his American friends will further clarify things.

Millionaire Kenneth Abramowitz serves as the national chairperson of American Friends of Likud. He is a co-founder and managing general partner of NGN Capital, a $450mn worldwide healthcare venture capital fund. According to Haaretz, he has previously appeared on Netanyahu’s “list of millionaires” - i.e., potential donors.

Abramowitz heads the Israel Independence Fund, a pro-settler charity in New York whose funds go to an organisation in Cincinnati called Hashomer, named after the Jewish militia set up in 1909 to protect Jewish settlers from the native Palestinian population. Hashomer has yet to file any tax reports to the IRS, and so it is difficult to know how the money is spent.

In addition, Abramowitz serves on the board of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, known as CAMERA. Based in Boston, CAMERA runs various projects in the US and UK to monitor media coverage that is critical of Israel. In 2003, it organised nationwide protests against what it alleged was anti-Israel bias in National Public Radio’s news coverage.

According to a 2015 report published by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, in reality CAMERA “is an Islamophobic watchdog organisation that bullies media outlets into producing pro-Israel coverage”. Its website has an extensive database of journalists who it has targeted over the years, including many prominent Israelis.

Israel National News reported that Abramowitz has called for shutting down the United Nations to “save Western civilisation from itself”. He reportedly said that “the rational citizens of the West must cease using the enemy’s terms - like “Second Intifada”… or “occupation” and “West Bank” for the Jewish liberation of the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.” He also rejected that “Islamophobia” is racist, saying that a “fear of Islamists” is “rational”.

'Saving the West' to supporting armed settlers

In the same vein, Abramowitz recently founded a website called “Save the West”, which has a narrowly Judeo-Christian, Anglo-American conception of what any Western population should look like. Indeed, according to him, “there are six foundational documents that define Western civilisation”: The Bible (the Old and New Testament); Magna Carta; US Declaration of Independence; US Constitution; Federalist Papers; and the Bill of Rights. The website features several posts warning of the dangers of accepting refugees from the Middle East.

Another person involved with the American Friends of Likud is Dr. Gerry Platt, who serves as one of its presidents. He has organised tours for Likud supporters inside the settlements of Hebron, the occupied West Bank, and sits on the ‘Emeritus Board’ of the Hebron Fund.

Established in 1979 and also based in New York, the Hebron Fund is dedicated to supporting Jewish settlers in the illegal settlements of Hebron. In recent years, Israel has enforced strict apartheid policies in the city, preventing Palestinians from accessing the main thoroughfare and shuttering all of the businesses there. In 2007, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported that settlers in Hebron “have been involved in gunfire, attempts to run people over, poisoning of a water well, breaking into homes, spilling of hot liquid on the face of a Palestinian, and the killing of a young Palestinian girl”. Dozens of Palestinians in Hebron have been injured or killed since the most recent escalation of violence.

In March 2015, the global activist group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the Hebron Fund's non-profit status. In 2009, the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee had submitted a similar complaint, but the IRS never responded.

John Tye, the legal director of Avaaz, told Mother Jones that the Hebron Fund is supporting settlers who “are arming themselves, they are engaged in military and paramilitary acts, some of them have connections to terrorism, and they are committing a wide range of crimes against Palestinians”. To capture the seriousness of the complaint, Avaaz cites David Wilder, a spokesperson for the Committee of the Jewish Community of Hebron, who blogged that: “We are all soldiers, whether we wear khaki uniforms or not… There is no choice, it’s us or them. And we don’t have any intentions to allow them to win. Whatever the cost. That is the way of an army, of soldiers, and that is what we all are."

Considering that Netanyahu has friends like these, Obama and his fellow Democrats, especially those in more liberal organisations like the Centre for American Progress, which is hosting the prime minister this week, should rethink the company they choose to keep.

- Sarah Marusek is a freelance researcher and writer for Public Interest Investigations/Spinwatch. She holds a PhD in social science from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

​The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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