By: Ali Abunimah
Source: The Electronic Intifada
An organization sponsoring a controversial visit to Israel by a number of American Muslim “leaders” is funded by one of a handful of major financiers of extreme Islamophobic groups in the United States.
Internal Revenue Service filings show that the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute has received generous funding from the Russell Berrie Foundation in recent years.
This foundation was named in the 2011 Center for American Progress report “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” as one of the top seven donors to anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States.
The Shalom Hartman Institute has received funding from other extremely Islamophobic donors as well.
Major beneficiaries of the Russell Berrie Foundation include Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum.
According to the Center for American Progress, Pipes and Emerson are members of a key group of prominent “misinformation experts” who “are primarily responsible for orchestrating the majority of anti-Islam messages polluting our national discourse today.”
Yet the Shalom Hartman Institute, which has received millions from the same donor, has established the so-called “Muslim Leadership Initiative” which takes “emerging Muslim leaders” on junkets to Israel allegedly to improve their understanding of Judaism and Israel.
The program’s actual goals appear to be to turn influential or potentially influential Muslim figures in North America into advocates or apologists for Zionism based on Jewish religious claims to Palestinian land.
The Shalom Hartman Institute bills itself as “a center of transformative thinking … that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel.” In practice, it is a major contractor for the Israeli military and works closely with the Israeli government’s efforts to combat the Palestine solidarity movement.
A December blog post at JUF News, published by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, revealed that the goal of the Muslim Leadership Initiative “is to empower an elite group of emerging and religious and intellectual leaders – including university chaplains, journalists, academics and cultural figures – to influence the North American Muslim community in reassessing its preconceived notions of Judaism and Israel.”
The Muslim Leadership Initiative’s own website is also unabashed about its Israel advocacy goals. It says the program specifically targets “emerging North American Muslim leaders to develop a deeper understanding of Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel” in order to “change attitudes in the North American Muslim community and in Muslim-Jewish discourse in communities and on campuses across North America.”
Over thirteen months, including two twelve-day seminars in Jerusalem, the program aims to give “young Muslim leaders” an “immersive” course in Zionism: “the essential ideas of Jewish peoplehood, the relationship between religion and national identity, the meaning for Jews of the land of Israel, and related issues of ethics, faith and practice.”
The program’s directors are Duke University chaplain Imam Abdullah Antepli and the American-born author Yossi Klein Halevi, a former adherent of Meir Kahane, the founder of the violent racist group Kach.
In an article for Islamic Monthly last July, Sana Saeed dubbed the Muslim Leadership Initiative as “faithwashing.”
Saeed defines “faithwashing” as activities aimed at reframing the question of Palestine “from a mid-20th century Euro-American settler-colonialist project” to a “centuries long enmity between Jews and Muslims.”
“Jews and Muslims don’t have a problem of religious understanding,” Saeed wrote recently. “Emphasizing the need for American Muslims to understand Judaism by understanding the connection of Jews to Israel is, in essence, ridding the conversation of the real political and legal crimes of the State of Israel and replacing it with an irrelevant conversation on religion.”
“Muslims participating in the [Muslim Leadership Initiative] program are, by virtue of their involvement, promoting the dangerous narrative that makes Judaism and Zionism one and the same – despite much Jewish protest to [this] conflation,” Saeed argues.
Islamic studies scholar and American Muslims for Palestine founder Hatem Bazian has explained faithwashing as “silencing the call for justice through instrumentalizing religious dialogues to support colonial and imperial projects.”
The Muslim Leadership Initiative is secretive about participants – the JUF News post may have been removed because its author mentioned that an unnamed “Muslim friend who leads a Chicago-based civic organization is heading to Israel next month” to take part in the program.
Another participant, Rabia Chaudry, a “national security fellow” at the Truman National Security Project and New America Foundation, drew attention to the Muslim Leadership Initiative and simultaneously generated a storm of controversy with an article in Timelast June titled “What an American Muslim Learned From Zionists.”
Sana Saeed strongly criticized Chaudry for effectively accepting and regurgitating views sympathetic to Zionism.
According to Yale University professor Zareena Grewal, who interviewed a number of unnamed participants in the Muslim Leadership Initiative for Jadaliyya, the “cohort of Muslims who participated in MLI was composed of one Turkish-American Muslim, a white American Muslim, an African American Muslim, and several South Asian American Muslims.”
“There were no Arab American participants, let alone a Palestinian one,” Grewal observed, “which lends credence to Zionist claims that they [Zionists] are not opposed to Muslims or Islam, only irrational and violent Arabs.”
Crossing the picket line
In an article this week, Saeed reiterates why participation in such propaganda initiatives is harmful to efforts to support Palestinian rights.
“By participating in the [Muslim Leadership Initiative], Muslim participants are going against the demands made by Palestinian civil society” to boycott Israel, Saeed writes, adding, “they are crossing the picket line.”
“This matters because if we are claiming to be in solidarity with the Palestinians – many of whom are an integral part of our Muslim communities in this country – then we need to acknowledge what it is that they’re demanding. When we make the decision to cross the picket line, we’ve made the decision to say: we know better,” Saeed adds.
Saeed’s latest article was prompted by the revelation by one participant, Amanda D. Quraishi, that she was part of a Muslim Leadership Initiative cohort flying off to Jerusalem this week. Quraishi identifies herself as “a blogger, interfaith activist and technology professional living in Austin, Texas.” She also serves on boards of several civic and lobby groups.
Thwarting Palestinian rights
The Shalom Hartman Institute and its leaders are deeply involved in various anti-Palestinian initiatives, including efforts to thwart the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“BDS is repulsive to me and alien to my Jewish consciousness,” the institute’s president Donniel Hartman has written.
The Shalom Hartman Institute is moreover a major “educational” contractor for the Israeli military, and its 2011 annual report reveals that it has formed a “partnership with the Israel Foreign Ministry to train all cadets in iEngage.”
The iEngage program is its main vehicle for pro-Israel advocacy, in partnership with major Zionist organizations in North America.
Among the leadership team of iEngage are Muslim Leadership Initiative co-director Yossi Klein Halevi and Tal Becker, a former advisor to the Israeli government and an “expert” at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank affiliated with the major Israel lobby group AIPAC.
Another iEngage leader is Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University in Montreal. Troy has been a leading thinker in the Israeli government-backed effort to halt what it calls the “delegitimization” of Israel.
This is in fact a multi-pronged campaign to destroy the movement to secure Palestinian rights, with a particular focus on disrupting and discrediting the Palestinian-initiated BDS campaign.
A 2009 position paper co-authored by Troy advocated for “legislative prohibitions” against BDS as well as efforts to investigate “rumors” about Palestine activists in order to smear and discredit them.
Troy came up with the idea of accusing North American educators who deviate from Zionist narratives in the classroom of “educational malpractice.”
The David Project set out its strategy, which includes accusing professors of “academic malpractice” and encouraging students to forge tactical alliances with other ethnic and religious constituencies, in a 2012 white paper.
In his forward to the document, Troy claims that North American campuses are rife with “totalitarian anti-Zionism that has both students and professors violating core ideals in their zeal to bash Israel.”
A key element of Israel’s effort to sabotage the Palestine solidarity movement was enunciated in Troy’s 2009 position paper as “driving a wedge between soft critics and hard delegitimizers.”
In practice, this includes efforts like the Muslim Leadership Initiative where “good Muslims” can be recruited and trained to argue Israel’s case among constituencies seen as largely sympathetic to Palestinians.
In this sense, “faithwashing” is exactly analogous to pinkwashing, which attempts to recruit LGBTQ activists to act as ambassadors for Israel in their own communities.
Complicity in Israeli war crimes
In its 2013 annual report, the Shalom Hartman Institute reveals that it received its fourth three-year contract from the Israeli military to provide sectarian indoctrination to top officers.
“One of the most pressing existential threats facing the State of Israel is the growing alienation of the population from its conviction in the idea of a Jewish national homeland,” the institute explains in a promotional brochure for its Lev Aharon program.
Many Israeli Jewish youth “having come of age in a post-nationalist environment do not identify with this realization of the Zionist enterprise,” it is lamented in the brochure. The specific goal of the training program is to instill Jewish nationalism in top officers that they would pass down the ranks.
Annually, the Lev Aharon program trains more than 1,500 “majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels” in “military ethics.”
“Following a competitive application process, in 2013 Lev Aharon was once again chosen by the IDF [Israeli army] Education Corps to be the content provider for Jewish-Israeli identity training of senior IDF officers,” the 2013 annual report states.
It boasts that Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, who commanded this summer’s massacre in Gaza, has lavishly praised the program.
This training and contractual relationship with the army makes the Shalom Hartman Institute complicit in war crimes committed by the Israeli army, most recently last summer in Gaza, where more than 2,200 people were killed.
If the massacre in Gaza represents the “ethics” and the “Zionist enterprise” the Shalom Hartman Institute teaches, then the organization may be directly culpable for incitement to war crimes.
Based on the guidelines published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the Shalom Hartman Institute’s close ties to the Israeli army are sufficient reason to make it boycottable.
From 2010 to 2012, the Russell Berrie Foundation gave almost seven million dollars to the Shalom Hartman Institute and its US affiliate, the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, according to the foundation’s public filings with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The New Jersey-based foundation’s money comes from the estate of Russell Berrie, who made his fortune in the toy business. Berrie’s widow and foundation president, Angelica Berrie, and his son, Scott Berrie, are both board members of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Angelica Berrie is the chair of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
The fact that the Shalom Hartman Institute receives millions of dollars from a principal funder of the Islamophobia industry would only be shocking if one takes at face value its pretensions – and those of its Muslim Leadership Initiative – that its goal is to foster interfaith “dialogue” and understanding.
Seen in its proper context, the Shalom Hartman Institute is a key player in Israel’s war against the Palestinians. A common strategy of many Zionist organizations and advocates, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks, has been to promote Islamophobia while appearing to embrace so-called “moderate” Muslims willing to help advance Israel’s agenda.
That one of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s most generous donors, who also chairs its North American board, is a major player in promoting hatred against Muslims should therefore come as no surprise.
There is a strong analogy to the American Islamic Congress, a supposedly “moderate” American Muslim advocacy group, that helped the Bush administration legitimize the invasion of Iraq. According to Max Blumenthal, the group continued to serve “as a faithful arm of soft American power in the Middle East” under Obama.
But as Blumenthal revealed in an investigation for The Electronic Intifada in May 2013, the American Islamic Congress was “funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry.”
The Center for American Progress says in its landmark report “Fear, Inc.” that its research “reveals not a vast right-wing conspiracy behind the rise of Islamophobia in our nation but rather a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners, and grassroots organizing.”
The report adds: “This spreading of hate and misinformation primarily starts with five key people and their organizations, which are sustained by funding from a clutch of key foundations.”
The Russell Berrie Foundation is one of that “clutch” of just seven donors that together gave more than $40 million to anti-Muslim causes from 2001 to 2009.
The two most prominent of the five key “misinformation experts” – Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson – have received large donations from the Russell Berrie Foundation in recent years.
According to “Fear, Inc.,” the foundation contributed $2,736,000 to the Counterterrorism & Security Education and Research Foundation, a group tied to Emerson between 2001 and 2009. The foundation’s recent filings reveal that it gave almost $700,000 to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism from 2010 to 2012.
Emerson, according to “Fear, Inc.,” has solicited “money by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims” and “boasts a history of fabricating evidence that perpetuates conspiracies of radical Islam infiltrating America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.”
Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum received $273,000 from the Russell Berrie Foundation in the decade covered by “Fear, Inc.”
According to the Russell Berrie Foundation’s 2010-2012 public IRS filings, the foundation contributed a total of $200,000 to the Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) at precisely the same Philadelphia mailing address used by Pipes’ Middle East Forum.
“Pipes and his think tank have become increasingly strident about the supposed threat posed by Islam and Muslims in America,” the Center for American Progress notes. “Anders Breivik cited Pipes and the Middle East Forum eighteen times in his manifesto.”
Breivik’s manifesto laid out his rationale – saving Christian Europe from a supposed Muslim takeover – that inspired his massacre of 69 people, the vast majority teenagers, at a summer youth camp of Norway’s Labor Party in July 2011.
Other Islamophobic backers
The Shalom Hartman Institute has received donations from other anti-Muslim funders. These include a small donation of $1,000 from the Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust, which gave more than $1.1 million dollars to Islamophobic organizations between 2001 and 2009 according to the Center for American Progress report.
But some are significant. The Shalom Hartman Institute of North America received more than half a million dollars from the Koret Foundation, according to the latter’s 2011 IRS filings.
Koret has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Center for Security Policy to fund Latma, a defunct far-right Israeli political sketch show that routinely depicted Muslims, Arabs and Africans in extremely racist ways, including the use of blackface.
There are many liberal and even progressive organizations which receive funding from the same set of anti-Muslim donors. But what makes the Shalom Hartman Institute notable is that the Russell Berrie Foundation is one of its largest donors and the principals of the foundation, Angelica and Scott Berrie, are directly involved in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s governance. The Russell Berrie Foundation, moreover, makes some of its largest single gifts to the Shalom Hartman Institute.
The Russell Berrie Foundation also gives large sums to other anti-Palestinian causes, including Friends of the IDF, and millions of dollars to Nefesh B’Nefesh, a Jewish Agency program aimed at settling Jews in the Galilee region of present-day Israel.
Nefesh B’Nefesh is part of Israel’s decades-long effort to Judaize the area and prevent Palestinian communities indigenous to the Galilee from growing beyond the enclaves to which Israel’s racist land use policies confine them.
The Russell Berrie Foundation also directly finances a sectarian and political indoctrination program in the Israeli army which aims to “strengthen Jewish and Zionist identity of Israeli soldiers.”
It would stretch credulity to believe that the Russell Berrie Foundation or the Koret Foundation aim to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony with one hand, while funding the Israeli army, the colonization of Palestinian land and anti-Muslim incitement with the other.
But that’s precisely what Muslim Leadership Initiative participants would have to believe to avoid the obvious conclusion that they are being used – wittingly or unwittingly – to advance Israel’s supremacist agenda and to undermine the Palestinians’ liberation struggle.