with Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe
A group of hard-line US neoconservatives and
former Israeli diplomats, among others, are behind the mass distribution, ahead
of the November US presidential election, of a controversial DVD that critics
have denounced as Islamophobic.
The group, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), is working with another
organization called the Clarion Fund, which produced the 60-minute video and
is itself tied closely to an Israeli organization called Aish Hatorah.
The Fund is currently distributing some 28 million copies of the DVD through
newspaper inserts in key electoral ''swing'' states states like Michigan,
Ohio, and Florida that, according to recent polling, could go either way in
November's presidential election.
According to Delaware incorporation papers, the Clarion Fund is based at the
same New York address as Aish Hatorah, a self-described "apolitical"
group dedicated to educating Jews about their heritage.
The Clarion Fund's street address as listed on the group's website and a DVD
mailer for the film is apparently not a physical address, but rather a "virtual
address" that goes to a post office box in New York City.
Critics allege that the movie "Obsession" is "hate propaganda"
which paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly
compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
At least two major metropolitan newspapers solicited to insert the paid advertisement
into their product have refused to do so because of a perceived bias in the
"Despite the perilous state of American newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
advertising department took an ethical stand and refused to distribute the DVD
of a film that for two years has troubled American Muslims," wrote Tim
Townsend, a reporter at Missouri's most influential newspaper earlier this month
after it rejected the ad.
While the initial press reports about the mass distribution focused on the
Clarion Fund's financing role, it was EMET that organized and oversaw the distribution,
EMET's spokesman, Ari Morgenstern, told IPS. Morgenstern, a former press officer
for the Israeli embassy here, said he contacted IPS at the Clarion Fund's request.
EMET, according to a recent press release, is "a nonpartisan, nonprofit
organization dedicated to policy research and analysis on democracy and the
According to filings made in compliance with the organization's tax-exempt
501(c)3 status, "the organization hosts seminars, debates and educational
films featuring Middle East experts in order to educate policymakers and the
public at large on the common threats facing Israel and the United States."
Morgenstern told IPS that EMET was "partnered with the Clarion Fund"
on what he called the "Obsession Project" which he identified as "an
initiative of EMET". He declined to name the Project's donors. A spokesman
for the Clarion Fund, Gregory Ross, has also refused to name the Fund's donors,
whose identity remains a mystery.
Morgenstern also declined to specify the cost of the DVD distribution, but
did say, "it costs a great deal it's a multi-million-dollar effort."
Outside experts have estimated the cost of the operation, including reproduction
and distribution, at between 15 million dollars and 50 million dollars.
Like hard-line neoconservatives, EMET opposes any land concessions to Palestinians
and takes other hard-line positions identified with Israel's right-wing Likud
Party and the ''Settler Lobby'' there. EMET's website says, "We regard
ourselves as 'intellectual revolutionaries'".
The group's acronym, EMET, mirrors the name of a predecessor to the Foundation
for the Defense of Democracies, which was called Emet. The word means "truth"
Two weeks ago, EMET sponsored a seminar series on Capitol Hill named for the
controversial multi-billionaire casino and hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson, a
major donor to right-wing Zionist organizations in the US; the far-right lobby
group, Freedom's Watch; and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), whose efforts
to persuade Jewish voters that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama
is aligned with radical anti-Israel forces in the Islamic world have drawn strong
criticism from the mainstream Jewish press here.
EMET's board of advisers includes a list of familiar neoconservative figures,
as well as three former Israeli diplomats, including a former deputy chief of
mission in Israel's Washington embassy.
The group is headed by Sarah Stern, who began her activism on Israeli issues
in opposition to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians. She
made a career out of her activism in the far-right Zionist Organization of America
(ZOA) as its national policy coordinator from 1998 through 2004.
Notable members of the advisory board include prominent hard-line neoconservatives,
including former US U.N. Amb. the late Jeane Kirkpatrick; Daniel Pipes of
the Middle East Forum; and the Hudson Institute's Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-born
spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top Middle East adviser, David
Other prominent neoconservative members of the board include Center for Security
Policy (CSP) president Frank Gaffney; former CIA chief James Woolsey; and Heritage
Foundation fellows Ariel Cohen and Nina Shea, who has also served for years
on the quasi-governmental US Commission for International Religious Freedom.
The US-born and -educated hard-line deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem
Post and senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at Gaffney's CSP, Caroline
Glick, is also an adviser.
Glick, Pipes, and Walid Shoebat, a "reformed" terrorist and EMET
adviser, are all featured as experts in "Obsession".
Also among the top names of listed advisers to EMET are three Israeli diplomats.
Two of them, Ambassadors Yossi Ben Aharon and Yoram Ettinger, were among the
three Israeli ambassadors whom then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred
to as "the Three Musketeers" when they lobbied Washington in opposition
to the Oslo accords. Indeed, Stern began her career at the behest of three unnamed
Israeli diplomats who were based in Washington under Rabin's predecessor, Yitzhak
Shamir, according to EMET's website.
Ettinger was at one time the chairman of special projects and is still listed
as a contributing expert at the Ariel Center for Policy Research, a hard-line
Likudist Israeli think tank that opposes the peace process.
Ben Aharon was the director general effectively the chief of staff of
The third Israeli ambassador, Lenny Ben-David, was appointed by Likud prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as the deputy chief of mission second
in command at the Israeli embassy in Washington from 1997 until 2000. Ben-David
had also held senior positions at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
for 25 years and is now a consultant and lobbyist.
But EMET is not the only group involved in the "Obsession" controversy
to have direct ties to Israel.
The Clarion Fund has also been criticized for initially denying its ties to
Israel's Aish Hatorah, which were first disclosed publicly by an IPS investigation
Honestreporting.com, an organization set up by Aish Hatorah and also a client
of Ben-David, admitted to IPS that it had aided the production of the film.
The Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah are headed by twin Israeli-Canadian brothers
Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. The two groups appear to be connected
as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish Hatorah.
"It seems that the Clarion Fund, from what we can tell, is just a virtual
organization that is a front for Aish Hatorah," Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman
for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told IPS. "They don't
have staff, they don't have a physical address. Nothing."
Little is known about the shadowy Clarion Fund, which is listed with the New
York Secretary of State's office as a "foreign not-for-profit foundation."
The group has rejected requests for information about its donors.
IPS has, however, uncovered one donor to the Clarion Fund, the Mamiye Foundation,
which gave it 25,000 dollars in August of 2007, according to tax filings. Four
Mamiyes, Charles M., Charles D., Hyman and Abraham, are listed as trustees on
According to filings with the New York Secretary of State, a contact listed
for a Mamiye company is also the same man listed as a contact and counsel for
the Clarion Fund Eli D. Greenberg of the law firm Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler,
Freeman and Herz.
Foreign nationals and companies, and domestic tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofits
are prohibited by federal election law from attempting to sway US elections
at any level through either contributions to campaigns or advocacy.
Morgenstern, EMET's spokesman, said that the DVD distribution only went to
"swing states" because media attention is focused there, and EMET
is hoping to spark a public debate about the threats posed by" radical
But CAIR has filed a complaint asking the Federal Election Commission to review
the actions of the Clarion Fund both as a foreign entity and as a nonprofit
The complaint by Nadhira Al-Khalili, CAIR's legal counsel, asked that both
charges be investigated.
(Inter Press Service)