Group Contests Casino Owned by Pro-Israel Extremists' Backer
by Jim Lobe
December 6, 2003

While U.S. Treasury officials scour financial records worldwide to stop funds donated by wealthy Arabs from flowing to radical Islamist groups, a small group of U.S. citizens is trying to shut down a major source of funding for Jewish extremists in Israel and the occupied territories.

Its target is a gambling casino located half a world away in a tiny low-income, mostly Latino town called Hawaiian Gardens, tucked into the urban sprawl of greater Los Angeles.

The Hawaiian Gardens Casino has made tens of millions of dollars for its owner, Irving Moskowitz, a 75-year-old doctor and businessman who moved to Florida more than 20 years ago.

His Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, which operates a bingo parlour next door, has also produced tens of millions of dollars over the years, most of which it passed to other charities or foundations that support the most extreme elements in the Jewish settlement movement in Israel and the occupied territories, according to records the foundation is required to file with U.S. tax authorities.

The foundation has also provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to right-wing U.S. Zionist groups, particularly the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) and Americans for a Safe Israel (ASI), as well as neo-conservative think tanks – among them the Centre for Security Policy (CSP) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – that were in the forefront of the drive to war in Iraq.

Its contribution to AEI, for example, funded the work of David Wurmser, whose 1999 AEI book, 'Tyranny's Ally', argued that the ouster of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was the key to remaking the Arab Middle East.

Wurmser, who was hired as Middle East advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney in September, acknowledged Moskowitz as his benefactor in the book, which was prefaced by the powerful former chairman of the Defence Policy Board, Richard Perle.

''If you asked most people who Moskowitz is, they would not have any idea,'' CSP director Frank Gaffney declared once at a testimonial dinner for the man whose foundation gave CSP close to half a million dollars between 1987 and 2001. ''His influence is a function of his financial support.''

It is precisely that influence that the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem will try to curb at a hearing in Los Angeles on Dec. 18 of California's Gambling Control Commission. It is slated to decide whether Moskowitz should be granted a permanent license to run his casino, which has reportedly grossed about 180 million dollars a year since it began operating several years ago.

Because the casino is owned directly by Moskowitz, and not, like the bingo hall, by a non-profit foundation, information on the destination of its revenue is not publicly available, although his attorney has suggested in the past that much of it goes to the same causes.

While most license hearings are pro forma affairs, this one is likely to be contentious, as coalition members and supporters, who include Jewish, peace and Latino groups, are lining up to testify why they believe Moskowitz's activities, both in Hawaiian Gardens and in the Middle East, should make him ineligible for a license.

Local activists, including former city officials, charge that Moskowitz has essentially ''hijacked'' the municipal government to build the casino and enrich his business interests at the expense of an impoverished, gang-ridden community, in ways that violate both the letter and the spirit of California's strict gambling laws.

Moskowitz's foes – who include some two dozen rabbis on the coalition's advisory committee and the predominantly Jewish peace group Americans for Peace Now – also intend to cite his philanthropic activities for the same basic reasons that the Bush administration is trying to persuade Arab governments to shut down charities that fund radical Islamists.

"Knowing how he has used the bingo money to foster extremism and violence, how can you turn around and give him a casino licence?'' said coalition co-director Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, in an interview.

"When you give someone a licence to run a casino, you're effectively giving him a licence to print money."

Beliak, who serves two conservative Jewish congregations close to Hawaiian Gardens, referred specifically to several Moskowitz-funded initiatives in Israel and the West Bank, the most deadly of which – the excavation and 1996 opening of a subterranean tunnel into East Jerusalem's Muslim quarter – sparked three days of rioting that killed more than 70 people, most of them Palestinian.

Moskowitz and foundations controlled by him have since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war secretly purchased – often at highly inflated prices – Arab homes in and around East Jerusalem with the apparent intent of eventually moving in the most militant factions of the settler movement. Similarly, he has bought tracts of property in key zones around the city to cut off its links with Arab areas nearby.

And he has often arranged to move in settlers or begin construction on his properties at particularly sensitive moments in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, precisely in order to inflame tensions between the two peoples, according to his critics.

In addition to any personal money he might have used to acquire these properties, his foundation funnelled some four million dollars between 1993 and 2001 for such purchases to the Miami-based American Friends of Everest Foundation, which Moskowitz also controls, according to summaries of tax documents obtained by the coalition and posted on its website.

Over the same period, he contributed nearly six million dollars from his foundation to the New York-based American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a particularly militant group that believes Jews should have exclusive control of Jerusalem to rebuild the Old Temple on the site of one of Islam's holiest mosques and perform animal sacrifices there, and also secretly buys and then occupies homes in the Arab quarter.

Moskowitz has also provided millions of dollars to other radical elements of the settler movement that continue to expand their holdings in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Among them is settlement Beit Hadassah, located in the middle of the West Bank city of Hebron. Its 500 mostly youthful settlers have repeatedly clashed with the Palestinian residents and even the Israeli Army when it has tried to restrain them.

Beit Hadassah is itself closely linked to a much larger settlement on the outskirts of Hebron, Kiryat Arba, the residence of Baruch Goldstein, the U.S.-born settler who massacred 29 Palestinian worshipers at Hebron's mosque in 1994 before being overcome and killed. His grave at Kiryat Arba became a movement shrine.

The residents of another settlement, Beit El, located in a densely populated Palestinian area near Jerusalem, also have a history of clashes with their Arab neighbours, and are led by the current government's minister of tourism, Benny Elon.

Elon, a rabbi who frequently speaks before Christian Right audiences in the United States, is a long-time associate of Moskowitz and one of Israel's most outspoken proponents of ''transfer'' – moving all Palestinians in ''Greater Israel'' to Jordan and denying citizenship to all those who resist moving.

Most of the millions of dollars that Moskowitz has contributed to the settlement movement have been earmarked for religious schools that are at the centre of community life.

In many ways, a yeshiva, or beit midrash, is the counterpart of the madrassas in the Islamic world that have served as recruitment centres for radical Islamist movements like the Taliban in Afghanistan – or even al-Qaeda and its offshoots – in recent years, according to Beliak, who was trained in Israel.

As in the Islamic world, most schools teach a moderate and reflective form of Judaism, while others instruct a far more radical and political vision. Those are the ones that Moskowitz funds, Beliak said.

''Students are taught that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people; that it won't be fertile until Jews are in full control of it, at which point it will respond miraculously to the presence of Jews."

"Moskowitz is not supporting the people who sit and study; he funds those that are ideologically mobilised, whose students are prepared at any moment to take part in protests and demonstrations, and who think it is their right to uproot olive trees on Arab land, overturn vegetable stands in Arab markets and wreak havoc,'' added Beliak.

To these groups, the Oslo peace process – indeed, any negotiation that envisages the surrender of territory to the Palestinians – has been anathema. And it was from one of them that Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, emerged.

Amir was a law student at Bar Ilan University, whose religious studies programme has been funded by Moskowitz.

Moskowitz, who had compared Rabin's policies to European appeasement of the Nazis before World War II, condemned the assassination as ''not good for peace or the Jewish nation'', but reportedly was more ambiguous in a private conversation with a close childhood friend.

Remarkably, in February 2000 Israel's 'Yedioth Aharanot' newspaper traced an Internet assassination ''game'' that invited visitors to ''destroy'' then prime minister Ehud Bartak and other pro-peace Israeli political leaders, to Cherna Moskowitz, Irving's wife and business partner, who also serves as an officer in his foundations.

The game, which was quickly removed after complaints were received, encouraged visitors to click on a leader's picture, which would ''explode'' on the screen, accompanied by the sound of screaming.

To the coalition – which saved a copy of the game – and its supporters, such incitement offers further ammunition for their case that the Moskowitzes do not meet California's character requirements. Indeed, they believe the Bush administration should back up their effort.

"If the administration wants to be credible in demanding that Arabs close down charities that fund radical madrassas,'' says Jane Hunter, the coalition's co-director, ''then it should also cut the flow of tax-free U.S. dollars to their Jewish equivalents, the yeshivas that Moskowitz funds".

(Inter Press Service)

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Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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