Pro-Israel Group That Claims to Renounce 'Hate' Has Been Quietly Funding Islamophobia Industry

The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago has been channeling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of anti-Muslim groups.

Photo Credit: Inbal Amit

The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) advertises itself as an organization dedicated to giving “help and hope to the most vulnerable.” The large federation, which mobilizes U.S. support for the state of Israel, in February staged an “Interfaith Gathering Against Hate,” which ostensibly brought Chicago's Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities together under the banner of “love thy neighbor. Last September, the JUF organized an event featuring the opposition-aligned Karam Foundation and the Syrian American Medical Society, which it says was aimed at addressing the “Humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

According to a new report from the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), written in partnership with JVP's Network Against Islamophobia, the JUF has for years been quietly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of the most extreme purveyors of anti-Muslim, anti-refugee hate in the United States. Citing IRS tax filings from 2011 to 2014, JVP determined that JUF has written checks for anti-Muslim institutions headed by Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson, both deemed extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In their report, JVP argues that JUF’s material support for the Islamophobia industry is “at least in part related to their willingness to deploy anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tropes to bolster U.S. support for the State of Israel.” JVP observes that the donations constitute donor-advised funds, in which individual donors recommend organizations to support, and JUF retains discretion over allocating the funds.

Between 2011 and 2014, JUF handed $648,750 to the Middle East Forum, which was founded by Pipes nearly three decades ago, the report notes. Pipes is a long-time anti-Muslim crusader and cheerleader of U.S. wars of aggression. In 2004, he defended the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and argued that this historical disgrace should be used as present-day model for the treatment of Muslims.

Pipes is a fierce defender of Israel and its far-right government, calling Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza a “face-off with barbarism.” He has publicly praised the shadowy Canary Mission website, which vilifies and defames U.S.-based students, academics and activists who campaign for Palestinian human rights. Pipes’ Middle East Forum has generated its own McCarthyite websites, including Campus Watch, which is aimed at outing professors deemed “anti-American.” Pipes emerged as a prominent support for Trump’s January 27 executive order targeting travelers from Muslim-majority countries, writing that that 45th president should engage in even more “extreme vetting.”

According to the JVP report, in 2012, JUF also gave $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which was established by Emerson in 1995. A virulently Islamophobic author and pundit, Emerson said of Muslims in 2011: “If I had to guess, based on what I know, based on my experience and this is all anecdotal, I would say to you at least thirty to forty percent support cultural jihad. That is, at least, they support the notion that it’s okay to blow up a bus of Israelis, it’s okay to bomb the World Trade Center, it’s okay to impose the Sharia, the code of Islamic law, it’s okay to beat women or wives, as part of the Sharia."

In 2015, Emerson went on Fox News to falsely claim that there are Muslim no-go zones in Europe, saying: “They’re sort of amorphous, they’re not contiguous necessarily, but they’re sort of safe havens. And they’re places where the governments, like France, Britain, Sweden, Germany, they don’t exercise any sovereignty so you basically have zones where Sharia courts are set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where police don’t go in… There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” Fox was later forced to issue corrections and apologies for these fallacious statements.

Emerson has played a key role in perpetuating the false theory the Obama administration was infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and he has spent years spreading baseless claims under the guise of expertise. In 1995, for example, Emerson publicly proclaimed that Oklahoma City Federal Building had been bombed by Arab "terrorists." Hours later, the bomber was exposed as white nationalist Timothy McVeigh.

JVP’s research also shows the JUF has multiple ties to Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, which have close associations to each other. The Donors Capital Fund was identified by the Center for American Progress as one of the top seven contributors to “promoting Islamophobia in our country.” According to a report released by the Center for American Progress in 2011, The Donors Capital Fund “contributed $21,318,600 to groups promoting Islamophobia from 2007 to 2009. These funds went to the Middle East Forum, Clarion Fund, Investigative Project on Terrorism and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.”

The JVP report notes that the channeling of funds was a two-way street, as the Donors Capital Fund gave JUF $5.1 million in 2013.

“In a time when working together to challenge hate and discriminatory policies is more important than ever, these financial ties show that the JUF’s priorities lie elsewhere,” said JVP-Chicago member Lesley Williams. “As a Black Jewish woman I am outraged, although not surprised, by the JUF’s funding of such racist organizations, and I hope that all members of the Chicago-area Jewish community who believe in solidarity with marginalized communities will join us in calling on the JUF to end its financial ties with groups that target Arab, Muslim and Palestinian communities.”

Reached by phone, JUF’s vice president of marketing and communications, Aaron Cohen, sought to dodge accountability for the donations, citing their status as donor advised. “Many for-profit and not-for-profit institutions have donor-advised programs, where people use the services of groups like ours as vehicles for funding charities,” he said. “We probably have 4,000 different charities. The primary test of whether we can work with a charity and fulfill the donor’s wishes in the donor-advised fund is whether they conform with state law, U.S. Law, tax code or—if the fund is in another country—the laws of that jurisdiction. If it’s legal, it’s legal.”

Yet Michael Deheeger, an organizer with JVP, told AlterNet, “It’s not like the JUF has no agency. They are the organization writing the checks to the Middle East Forum. They have complete discretion not to direct the money, but they have chosen not to do that. They could stop this today if they wanted to.”

Cohen acknowledged that JUF has the power to reject donor-advised donations and did not know whether any such donations had been previously rejected. He repeatedly declined to condemn anti-Muslim organizations that receive JUF’s donor-advised funds, stating: “You’re not going to get me to say I condemn this group, I don’t condemn that group.”

The JVP report takes note of a growing alliance between the Islamophobia industry and numerous other pro-Israel organizations, including the powerful lobbying organization, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As journalist Eli Clifton revealed, in 2015 AIPAC started a front group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which donated $60,000 to the Center for Security Policy—the anti-Muslim think tank that provided the shoddy research behind Trump’s campaign trail pledge to ban Muslims from the United States.

In December, the pro-Israel lobby group known as the American Jewish Committee announced it was forming a Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council ostensibly aimed at addressing “anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism in the U.S.” Yet, the AJC’s track record is marred by anti-Muslim campaigning, including promotion of key figures in the Islamophobia industry—among them Pipes and Emerson.

“The JUF has never legitimately supported the rights of oppressed people, despite their claims,” said Hatem Abudayyeh of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. “Instead, they have historically spewed Zionist propaganda; been apologists for Israeli crimes; and supported military attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in our homeland, as well as racist, political attacks on Palestine support organizing in the U.S.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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