Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Brad Sherman

 

Did group raise funds for Hamas on college campuses?

WASHINGTON – A U.S. congressman is the latest to call for a Justice Department investigation into whether a pro-Palestinian group has been raising money on college campuses for Hamas.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) urged a probe into Viva Palestina USA, a humanitarian aid convoy led by British lawmaker George Galloway that brought medical supplies to Gaza last July.

Both the Zionist Organization of America and Anti-Defamation League in recent months have urged Holder to investigate reports about the convoy’s links to Hamas.

image
British Parliament member George Galloway, speaking at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London earlier this year, leads the humanitarian aid group Viva Palestina USA, which has been accused of supporting Hamas. Vince Millett/Creative Commons

The groups made their requests after Galloway and other Viva Palestina USA members appeared and reportedly raised funds at some college campuses in the spring and summer.

“Clearly, people and organizations in the United States cannot be allowed to solicit funds for foreign terrorist organizations,” Sherman wrote in his letter to Holder. “That such solicitation is occurring during the middle of the day at a public university is truly frightening,” he said, referring to the University of California, Irvine.

Sherman wrote similar letters expressing concern about the reports on Viva Palestina USA to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UC-Irvine chancellor Michael Drake, and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

Viva Palestina USA was launched after the Viva Palestina group that Galloway set up in Britain sent a convoy to Gaza in March. It did not respond to a request for comment.

At a meeting in Gaza with Hamas officials during the March trip, according to a report from terrorism expert Steve Emerson, Galloway held up a bag of cash and said, “This is not charity. This is politics” and “We are giving this money now to the government of Palestine. And, if I could, I would give them 10 times, 100 times more.”

When the Viva Palestina USA convoy arrived in Gaza months later, there was no similar public event with Hamas, although the group reportedly did meet with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Giving humanitarian aid to Gaza is legal under U.S. law, but providing it to Hamas officials or the Hamas government in Gaza would likely be considered illegal because Hamas is on the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The most controversial appearance by Viva Palestina USA and Galloway in the United States came May 21 at UC-Irvine, a campus that has experienced tensions between Jewish and Muslim students and where a civil rights complaint was filed earlier this decade claiming a hostile environment for Jewish students. (A federal investigation found that the university acted appropriately.)

UC-Irvine has referred information about the event, which was sponsored by the Muslim Student Union, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ZOA leaders said they had obtained a video of the event and, at the bureau’s request, passed it on to law enforcement officials.

The university also says it is investigating whether the Muslim Student Union had violated university policy by raising money without the university’s authorization.

In a letter to the university’s campus counsel, the Muslim Student Union acknowledged that it may have “unknowingly breached university policy (as undoubtedly have every student organization on campus as well as university administrators).” But the student group rejected ZOA’s accusations that it may have raised money for Hamas as “nothing short of libel.”

“ZOA seeks to smear MSU’s reputation by maliciously accusing MSU of breaking U.S. laws without providing any real evidentiary backing,” the group said in its letter.

The ZOA praised the university’s decision to forward information on the Viva Palestina fund-raising.

“They’ve done the right thing,” said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice. “All groups should be held accountable.”

University spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the campus police forwarded information on the Viva Palestina fund raising to the FBI because it felt “they were the best agency to handle it.” She said outside counsel is examining whether the Muslim Student Union violated campus procedures.

JTA

image
British Parliament member George Galloway, speaking at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London earlier this year, leads the humanitarian aid group Viva Palestina USA, which has been accused of supporting Hamas. Vince Millett/Creative Commons
 
 

Record delegation from NORPAC advocates for Israel in D.C.

image
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) meets with a delegation from NORPAC.

At 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday, while most people were still dreaming in bed, 1,040 people were getting ready to join the NORPAC Mission to Washington. The non-partisan North Jersey political action committee supports the U.S.-Israel relationship by advocating on key issues, including foreign aid, Palestinian incitement, the Middle East peace process, and Iran sanctions.

Twenty-four buses pulled up to the Washington Convention Center in the late morning to be greeted by a lineup of speakers from Congress as well as a keynote speaker. The participants flooded two ballrooms and began the program by singing The Star Spangled Banner, Hatikvah, and in recognition of Yom Yerushalayim, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”

After an introduction by Dr. Richard Schlussel, the mission chair, speakers included Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Dr. Mort Fridman, NORPAC vice president, introduced the keynote speaker, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

Following the speeches, 450 members of Congress — including 95 senators — held private meetings with NORPAC participants, who advocated on four issues.

The first issue was the 2011 foreign aid request for Israel, which is expected to be $3 billion. Of that aid, 70 percent is in the form of credits to be spent in the United States, supporting high-tech defense jobs.

image
Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren addresses the group.

“This aid is more of an investment than an expense,” said Dr, Ben Chouake, NORPAC president. “Given Israel’s strategic location on the Mediterranean with access to the Red Sea, and other vital shipping lanes, it is imperative that Israel continues to serve as a port of call for our military and intelligence operations,”

Participants noted to members of Congress that the United States is slated to provide a $550 million aid package to the Palestinians in the disputed territories and Gaza. They wanted assurances that the Palestinian Authority would be held accountable for the allocation of the funds, inasmuch as more than $7 billion of aid to the Palestinians cannot be accounted for. NORPAC members also advocated that U.S. aid be conditional on ending anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian news broadcasts, publications, and schools.

The participants urged the lawmakers to support the U.S.-led peace process, under which Arab states and the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel. According to Chouake, “Although the current Israeli government has accepted the concept of a two-state solution and has made countless other concessions, Arabs and Palestinians refuse to even recognize a Jewish state. Peace cannot possibly be achieved when one of the parties is unwilling to recognize the other.”

The last item on the NORPAC agenda called for urging legislators to encourage the process to proceed and to support the final version of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.

Different versions of this bill have been passed by the Senate and House and are now in reconciliation. Mission members stressed the importance of the bill’s passage in order to send a clear message to Teheran that its current course toward nuclear armament cannot stand.

image
Rep. Eric Cantor was one of the speakers

According to Chouake, who said that NORPAC put the Iran Sanctions bill on the map three years ago, it is critically close to passage. He added that members of Congress from both parties agreed that time is running out to address this existential threat to the world and, in consensus fashion, pledged to resist attempts to weaken or delay the bill.

The group heard concluding addresses by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-W.V.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Schlussel said of the mission, “We were all gratified at seeing so many of our members being received so graciously by our nation’s leaders.”

For more information on NORPAC and the mission, go to www.norpac.net or call (201) 788-5733.

 
 

The Israel Project pitches peace as well as Israel

image
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and The Israel Project president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi are pictured at a Sept. 21 dinner in New York hosted by Mizrahi’s group. David Neff

WASHINGTON – Two months ago the Israel Project was wondering, in a Capitol Hill briefing, “Is the Palestinian Authority preparing its people for peace?”

The answer was a pretty unequivocal “no.”

Delivering the briefing was Itamar Marcus, a founder of Palestinian Media Watch who has posited that anti-Semitism is not just endemic to Palestinian nationalism but central to it.

Last month, the same Israel Project said it was “honored” to host a dinner for Jewish groups in New York with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — and was even more willing to be charmed by him.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project. “We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas — especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

Contradiction?

Not at all, Mizrahi told JTA in an interview: Both events stem from The Israel Project’s mandate to accurately represent Israel’s policies. In this case, Mizrahi said, she got her hechsher for Fayyad from Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The prime minister of Israel said that this is his partner for peace,” Mizrahi said. “If the supposedly right-wing prime minister of Israel says this is partner for peace, it is.”

Insiders say that The Israel Project’s recent aggressive outreach — to Palestinians in particular and Arabs and Muslims generally — is a signal of Netanyahu’s seriousness in his direct talks with Palestinian leaders, which were renewed recently at the behest of the Obama administration. Netanyahu is giving a green light to American pro-Israel groups to take the talks seriously.

“You’ve got to welcome anyone who reaches out,” said Hadar Susskind, director of policy for J Street, the self-described pro-peace, pro-Israel organization, which was not present at the meeting. “It can only help for people to understand each other and for all parties to end the conflict.”

Past peace negotiations have been hindered to a degree by vigorous opposition by some American Jewish groups. In 1995, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee played a critical role in getting a U.S. law passed that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over the private objections of then-President Clinton and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who did not want the issue hampering negotiations.

Mizrahi, 46, was an heir to a cosmetics dynasty who entered the political sphere through Democratic politics — she had an unsuccessful run for Congress in her home state of North Carolina. She cuts a figure that is at once imposing and disarming: Mizrahi is tall, always impeccably and brightly dressed, and exudes deference and charm as soon as she enters a room, remembering every face and details about her interlocutors.

She was among three women who co-founded the Israel Project in 2002, appalled by the image-battering Israel was taking during the second intifada. Their strategy was to help make Israel’s case through friendly outreach and assistance to the media.

The Israel Project has expanded to a team of 44 and two offices in Washington and Jerusalem. Its annual budget has surpassed $7 million.

Mizrahi, as president, occasionally has been caught in the trap of not testing ideas that may seem normative in Israel but sound a jarring note in the wider world. For instance last year, an internal document suggested referring to the removal of settlements as “ethnic cleansing.” She had the reference removed.

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which helped arrange the recent evening with Fayyad, said his organization sees engaging with the mainstream of the American Jewish community as critical to making negotiations work.

“We have to have the best possible relations with the widest swath of Jewish American groups,” Ibish said. “We want to talk with any organization that is interested in a two-state solution.”

The American Task Force on Palestine also has ties with AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, he said.

Ibish, however, questioned The Israel Project’s ties with Marcus and other figures who over the years have depicted the whole of Islam as implacably radical.

Mizrahi said her relationship with Marcus and Palestinian Media Watch, which tracks Palestinian incitement and has been criticized by left-wing groups for ignoring a diminution of that incitement in recent years, was tactical and not ideological. Exposing and tamping down incitement create the conditions for peace, she said.

“When you end the incitement, you can create space for Palestinian leaders to say ‘yes,’ “ said Mizrahi, recalling talking to a U.S. negotiator during the 1990s who said that Yasser Arafat never fully embraced peacemaking because he feared for his life.

“I believe that work is incredibly good for both sides, whatever its motivation,” Mizrahi said of Palestinian Media Watch.

That thinking also was behind a new initiative to replicate The Israel Project’s success with U.S. and European media by providing information for the Arab and Muslim media. A staff of four has cultivated relations with 2,000 Arab reporters in the region, Mizrahi said.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a board member of Mizrahi’s organization, said it was a natural next step.

“If you had to pick an area where we had to get the pro-peace-with-Israel message out, it’s in the Arabic language,” he told JTA.

After polling by The Israel Project showed increased support for a two-state solution in the Palestinian areas but steadfast opposition in Arab countries, Mizrahi said she saw an opening for outreach to Arab media.

The Israel Project emphasizes positive outreach and offers of assistance to media rather than the blandishments and chastisements that characterize many pro-Israel groups.

“We’re booking and doing interviews on Al Jazeera,” Mizrahi said, sounding slightly amazed at it herself.

JTA

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31