It couldn’t happen here…

Aish Hatorah’s Hasbara Fellows train to be pro-Israel advocates in the U.S. on trips paid for by Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs

JVL Introduction

Hasbara is the Hebrew word for propaganda. It ranges across a variety of forms, from “better marketing” to mobilisation of large number of foot-soldiers to bombard Facebook pages, to discrediting its opponents to actual dirty trick and the funding of secret operations to bolster Israel and discredit its critics.

Here Richard Silverstein gives some instances of the millions in funding to pro-Israel groups, particularly  in the U.S. – in violation of U.S. law.

This article was originally published by Tikun Olam תיקון עולם on Fri 4 Sep 2020. Read the original here.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gave Israel Lobby Groups $7-Million to Fight BDS, Violating Federal Law

Reports in The Forward and the Israeli media watchdog, 7th Eye, reveal that the Israeli government offered millions in funding to pro-Israel groups in the U.S. in violation of U.S. law.  A number of groups approached by the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs refused the funding, believing it would label them as propaganda agents on behalf of a foreign nation.  But many groups had no compunctions and readily took the cash in return for promoting Israeli interests in the U.S

Eleven pro-Israel U.S. groups received nearly $7-million in the past year.  Nearly $4-million more went to groups in Latin America, Africa, Europe and elsewhere. Among the U.S. groups were Christians United for Israel ($1.3-million), Israel Allies Foundation ($118,000), Aish HaTorah ($1.8-million), America-Israel Friendship League ($33,000), and StandWithUs. A Christian evangelical group named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, Proclaim Justice to the Nations, received $40,000, for its efforts to pass anti-BDS legislation in Tennessee and elsewhere.

None of these groups registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires U.S. individuals or groups paid directly by a foreign state to lobby on its behalf inside the U.S., to register.  None of the groups acknowledge on their websites that they received such funding. Despite being questioned by the Forward about the funding, none of the groups indicated they planned to register as foreign agents.

In some cases, they argued that the funds they received were designated to pay for travel junkets to Israel for U.S. opinion-leaders: politicians, journalists, student leaders, etc.  Under FARA, if you don’t perform lobbying activities inside the U.S. you are exempt from filing.  But in all cases, those who traveled to Israel were expected, sometimes even directed, to return home and utilize the government briefings in order to promote Israeli interests in the U.S. That constitutes lobbying for a foreign state under FARA.

In one particular case, the Israel Allies Foundation, which received a grant worth nearly 10% of its total annual revenue from the ministry, brought a South Carolina GOP legislator active in the Koch-funded ALEC, to Israel and introduced him to a right-wing legal scholar, Eugene Kontrovich.  The latter drafted anti-BDS legislation now passed in six states (including South Carolina) and proposed in over 25 other states.  The bills are highly controversial, with civil liberties and constitutional scholars claiming that they violate First Amendment rights to free speech.  Neither IAF nor Clemmons has registered as foreign agents, as they should under the law.

In this particular case, a foreign state is intervening in domestic political debate and directing the legislative agenda to promote its interests.  It would be legal to do so if these hired guns admitted who they were working for; but it is clearly illegal to do on the down-low.

The Justice Department has never prosecuted any such agent working for Israel.  Though it has prosecuted others working for various foreign countries. In fact, one of the many ways in which Michael Flynn got himself into hot water was by taking money from a Turkish businessman and Erdogan ally to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government.

Clearly, there is a double standard, because the U.S. government treats Israeli agents with kid gloves and throws the book at the agents of other countries. There is only one reason for this: the power of the Israel Lobby to anesthetize law enforcement when U.S.laws are broken involving Israel.

Gilad Erdan, former minister of strategic affairs, and mastermind behind foreign anti-BDS campaign that broke U.S. law

The brazenness of this scheme is astonishing.  In the past, no pro-Israel group would have dared take money directly from the Israeli government that involved promoting its interests in the U.S.  Nor would prior Israeli governments have engaged in such chicanery.  Both the Israel Lobby and Israeli leaders know the rules clearly. But with the ascendancy of Donald Trump and the Likud, laws are made to be broken.  Or made only for the other guy.

UK Zionist Group and Israeli Ministry Jointly Funded $4-Million Tel Aviv “Cultural” Festival

The ministry also produced a major “cultural” festival in London ostensibly to promote Tel Aviv as an international destination. A memo produced by Erdan’s staff outlined the costs and proposed UK partners: both the Israeli government and British Zionist Federation split the $1.6-million cost. In doing so, the British group became little more than a domestic extension of the Israeli government. The Ministry memo also noted it had approached the Board of Deputies and BICOM, two major pro-Israel groups, and each had refused to participate.

I have asked the BoD and Zionist Federation to confirm this information and inform me about any other Israeli government funding they received.  Neither has responded.

Hen Mazzig: Israeli Gay-Jew-of-Color… And Government Agent

In a case that has local repercussions here in Seattle, the Forward reported in 2018 that Hen Mazzig, purportedly acting as a “consultant” for the Israeli government’s advertising agency, $49,000 to engage in pro-Israel activities in the U.S.and around the world.  Mazzig also employed an “assistant” whom the government paid.  But the Forward discovered that the actual funding came from the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, which is a secretive quasi-intelligence agency tasked with combating “delegitimization” of Israel and BDS.

The Al Jazeera documentary, The Lobby profiled another shady Israeli figure who worked for the same ministry out of the  UK’s Israeli embassy. He conspired with UK Jews to sabotage the career of senior Tory leaders deemed insufficiently loyal to Israel. As a result of the bad publicity from the program, he lost his job.

Between 2016-2018, Mazzig wrote op-eds, spoke before college groups, and engaged in incendiary attacks on pro-Palestinian groups in the U. S., the UK, and elsewhere. None of the colleges which paid him speaking fees knew he was acting as an agent of the Israeli government. None of the publications publishing his advocacy noted he was a paid agent of the Israeli state.

Mazzig argues he wasn’t an agent because the payment he received was not for work directed or supervised by the government. He argues that as a consultant he was a free agent who offered advice to the government, but took no direction in return. Those of us who know Mazzig and his history know of his tendency to lie or distort reality to his and Israel’s advantage. No one in their right mind believes that Israel pays anyone to promote its interests without directing them in some fashion as to what to do. Further, the idea that the Israeli government needed to pay anyone to tell it what was happening on college campuses is ludicrous. It has literally thousands of ways of easily learning such information without paying Hen Mazzig to do so.

The Israeli worked for SWU (including here in Seattle, where I first had the misfortune of encountering him) before he went out on his own as a paid agent of the State. What is the difference between being an Israeli agent and an SWU staff member? The only difference is who’s paying you.

StandWithUs also took funds from the Israeli government, though it claims it did so inadvertently.   New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft was awarded the $1-million Genesis Prize in the midst of a scandal involving visits to a massage parlor and charges of soliciting sex.  He directed that the gift be transferred to pro-Israel groups.  SWU was one of them. However, the ministry decided to add $1.6-million of its own funds to those distributed to the anti-BDS groups. As the funds were co-mingled, there was no way to determine whether the non-profit was receiving funds from the Genesis Foundation or the government. Meaning that SWU was violating FARA by accepting Israeli funds to engage in pro-Israel advocacy in the U.S.

Comments (7)

  • Jaye says:

    Hasbara is NOT the Hebrew word for propaganda. Hasbara normally translates to explanation/advocacy (from the verb l’hasbir, to explain) whereas Ta’amoola is the Hebrew word for propaganda. JVL can easily verify.
    The remainder of the article is debateable but you should correct the first line of your introduction.

    [JVL web writes: Jaye is technically correct according to the strict dictionary definition of what hasbara used to mean. But languge evolves and Jaye is simply wrong in the political sense. It has long been used in Israel as a euphemism for ‘propaganda”. Israel has a Ministry of Hasbara – a Ministry of Explanation?! The English transation of that is clearly Ministry of Propaganda.]

  • Alexander Gavin says:

    I do wonder if the actions referred to in the article are the actions of Israeli governments in general or the actions only of the current extreme right wing Likud party.

  • Sean O’DONOGHUE says:

    There is no need for Zionism to get Israel to fund Hasbara… AIPAC in the USA just needs to give the nod to one of its very deep-pocketed supporters to fund one of their propaganda outfits, and the money will be immediately forthcoming. Likewise the nod to disseminate negative propaganda against any politician who criticises Israel and/or supports the Palestinians. In the U.K. BICOM will deliver the funding. So no need to get funding from Israel…there is plenty of it available in the home countries

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    These actions are bad. In my opinion it does not matter too much which of the two actively does it, because the other will condone it by silence and acceptance. It is shocking to what degree this is all being done.

  • steve mitchell says:

    This is all part of the Far Right thrust for power. The Israeli government is surely now encouraging the Far Right. Astonishing when you look at the history.

  • Mo says:

    Amazing coverage. Better journalism than all the press

  • A very revealing and useful article.

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