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Follow the Money: From Islamophobia to Israel Right or Wrong

The people bankrolling illegal Israeli expansionism in the occupied West Bank are the same people fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S.

A poster for the film The Third Jihad.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


You don’t have to get more than a minute into Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2007) to begin to see how inextricably it ties Islamophobia to hardline Israeli policies [1]. Despite its initial disclaimer, the film demonizes all Muslims, and through explicit statements and rapid-fire images, makes clear the filmmaker's view that there is a direct connection between Nazis and both Palestinians and Muslims. 

Obsession played a brief but high-profile role during the 2008 presidential election campaign when the Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs as a newspaper insert in swing states [2]. A few years later, Clarion’s The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America (2008)—about an Islamic enemy that, purportedly, “the government is too afraid to name”—made its own headlines with reports that the New York City Police Department had showed the film to nearly 1,500 police officers [3]. And in 2011, Clarion got still more attention when it issued its third big film, Iranium [4]. The film pushes the Israeli and neoconservative narrative about Iran's nuclear program and the need for military action against Iran, using a “clash of civilizations” framework that attributes “unavoidable” conflict to fundamental cultural differences between Islamic and Western civilizations [5].

Obsession and The Third Jihad ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslim, civil rights and other groups. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) condemned Obsession for spreading “scurrilous accusations against Islam and Muslims,” while the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) denounced The Third Jihad as “blatantly anti-Muslim” [6]. Activists, researchers, and journalists have commented on Obsession’s mistranslations and The Third Jihad’s use of a “ discredited conspiracy theory” [7]. They have also noted the films’ countless distortions and manipulations: benign images of Muslims at prayer made sinister by “scary music” and “repeated images of an Islamic flag flying over the White House”—“ cherry picking . . . inflammatory images and splicing them together to create fear” [8].

But others, particularly supporters of Israel’s right-wing policies, found these films’ virulently anti-Muslim message to their liking. All three films have been effectively mainstreamed in the Jewish community, with local showings sponsored by such groups as Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Dallas Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and B’nai B’rith chapters [9]. Obsession has become a staple of David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Awareness” weeks on college campuses. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire supporter of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney—and a critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from the right—has distributed copies of Obsession to young people on Birthright-sponsored tours to Israel, a project he funds [10].

The Clarion filmmakers and their funders were using Islamophobia in the service of their vision of Israeli expansionism. Commenting on Iranium, journalists Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib analyze it within the context of The Third Jihad, Clarion’s previous movie. Each, they write, “portrays a clash of civilizations, suggests that Muslims value death over life, and portrays irrational hatred toward Israel and anti-Semitism as key to comprehending the anger and frustration voiced by Muslim countries against the United States. . . . [T]he formula for the Clarion Fund's anti-Muslim propaganda is becoming more apparent with each new iteration” [11]. And particularly relevant to this article, the films reflect the worldview of almost all of the anti-Muslim ideologues, the funders of a nationwide Islamophobia network, and the right-wing pro-Israel groups that we discuss below.

Some of the activists and journalists critiquing the content of these films also followed the money to the Clarion Fund, especially for Obsession. Ferreting out its funders proved no easy task. While journalists were able to explain fairly easily that Clarion was behind the film and that an $18 million grant from Donors Capital made possible the election-year distribution of the Obsession DVDs, things got messy beyond that. The journalists’ difficulties arose primarily because Clarion has resisted even the most basic level of transparency. An offshoot of the Israel and U.S.-based Aish HaTorah, which supports militant Israeli settlers, Clarion has a “virtual,” rather than a physical, office in the United States and is not forthcoming about its connection with Aish, including having directors with ties to both groups [12]. Sometimes even the most diligent journalist had to just be lucky. An accountant’s error, for example, led Justin Elliott of Salon to learn the identity of the individual source of the huge Donors Capital grant for Obsession—a discovery that, despite IRS forms to the contrary, spokespeople for both the possible donor, Barre Seid, and for Donors Capital claimed to be untrue [13].

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