A dangerous obsession
By Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton
WASHINGTON - A group of hardline United States neo-conservatives and former
Israeli diplomats were behind the controversial, allegedly Islamaphobic DVD
which was recently distributed in US swing states ahead of November's
The 60-minute movie,Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West ,
was an initiative of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), but produced
by the Clarion Fund, an organization described as a "front" for Israeli group
Some 28 million copies of Obsession are currently being inserted in
newspapers and delivered by mail in key electoral swing states - such as
Michigan, Ohio and Florida which, according to recent polling, could go either
Critics allege the movie Obsession is "hate propaganda" which
paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly
compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s
- at least two major metropolitan newspapers refused to run the movie because
of its perceived bias.
"Despite the perilous state of American newspapers, the St Louis Post-Dispatch
advertising department took an ethical stand and refused to distribute the DVD
of a film that for two years has troubled American Muslims," Tim Townsend, a
reporter at Missouri's most influential newspaper wrote this month.
The Clarion Fund is based at the same New York address as Aish Hatorah, a
self-described "apolitical" group dedicated to educating Jews about their
heritage. Its street address, as listed on the group's website and a DVD mailer
for the film, is a "virtual address" that goes to a post office box in New York
While initial press reports about the mass distribution focused on the Clarion
Fund's financing role, it was EMET that organized and oversaw the distribution,
EMET's spokesman and a former press officer for the Israeli Embassy in
Washington, Ari Morgenstern, told Inter Press Service.
EMET, according to a recent press release, is "a non-partisan, non-profit
organization dedicated to policy research and analysis on democracy and the
Middle East." According to filings made in compliance with the organization's
tax-exempt status, "The organization hosts seminars, debates and educational
films featuring Middle East experts in order to educate policymakers and the
public at large on the common threats facing Israel and the United States."
Morgenstern said EMET was "partnered with the Clarion Fund" on what he called
the "Obsession Project" which he identified as "an initiative of EMET". He
declined to name the project's donors - a spokesman for the Clarion Fund,
Gregory Ross, also refused to name the fund's donors, whose identities remain a
Morgenstern also declined to reveal the cost of the DVD distribution, but did
say, "It cost a great deal - it's a multi-million-dollar effort." Outside
experts have estimated the cost of the operation at between US$15 million and
Like hardline neo-conservatives, EMET opposes any land concessions to
Palestinians and takes other hardline positions identified with Israel's
right-wing Likud Party and the ''Settler Lobby'' there. EMET's website says,
"We regard ourselves as 'intellectual revolutionaries'."
Two weeks ago, EMET sponsored a seminar series on Capitol Hill for the
controversial multi-billionaire casino and hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson, who
is a major donor to right-wing Zionist organizations in the US, such as the
far-right lobby group, Freedom's Watch and the Republican Jewish Coalition
RJC efforts to persuade Jewish voters that Democratic presidential candidate
Barack Obama is aligned with radical anti-Israel forces in the Islamic world
have drawn strong criticism from the mainstream Jewish press.
EMET's board of advisers includes a list of familiar neo-conservative figures,
as well as three former Israeli diplomats, including a former deputy chief of
mission in Israel's Washington embassy.
The group is headed by Sarah Stern, who began her activism on Israeli issues in
opposition to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians. She made a
career out of her activism in the far-right Zionist Organization of America
(ZOA) as its national policy coordinator from 1998 through 2004.
Notable members of the advisory board include prominent hardline
neo-conservatives, including former US UN ambassador the late Jeane
Kirkpatrick; Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum; and the Hudson Institute's
Meyrav Wurmser - the Israeli-born spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney's former
top Middle East adviser, David Wurmser.
Other prominent neo-conservative members of the board include Center for
Security Policy (CSP) president Frank Gaffney; former Central Intelligence
Agency chief James Woolsey; and Heritage Foundation fellows Ariel Cohen and
Nina Shea, who has served for years on the quasi-governmental US Commission for
International Religious Freedom.
The US-born and educated hardline deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post
and senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at Gaffney's CSP, Caroline Glick,
is also an adviser. Glick, Pipes and Walid Shoebat, a "reformed" terrorist and
EMET adviser, are all featured as experts in Obsession.
Also among the top names of listed advisers to EMET are three Israeli
diplomats. Two of them, ambassadors Yossi Ben Aharon and Yoram Ettinger, were
among the three Israeli ambassadors whom then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak
Rabin referred to as "The Three Musketeers" when they lobbied Washington in
opposition to the Oslo accords.
Stern began her career at the behest of three unnamed Israeli diplomats who
were based in Washington under Rabin's predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, according
to EMET's website, while Ettinger was at one time the chairman of special
projects and is still listed as a contributing expert at the Ariel Center for
Policy Research, a hardline Likudist Israeli think-tank that opposes the peace
Ben Aharon was the director general - effectively the chief of staff - of
The third Israeli ambassador, Lenny Ben-David, was appointed by Likud prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as the deputy chief of mission - second in
command - at the Israeli Embassy in Washington from 1997 until 2000. Ben-David
had also held senior positions at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
for 25 years and is now a consultant and lobbyist.
But EMET is not the only group involved in the controversy to have direct ties
The Clarion Fund has also been criticized for initially denying its ties to the
Israel's Aish Hatorah, which were first disclosed publicly by an IPS
investigation last year. Honestreporting.com, an organization set up by Aish
Hatorah and also a client of Ben-David, admitted to IPS that it had aided the
production of the film.
The Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah are headed by twin Israeli-Canadian brothers
Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. The two groups appear to be connected
as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish Hatorah.
"It seems that the Clarion Fund, from what we can tell, is just a virtual
organization that is a front for Aish Hatorah," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman
for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "They don't have staff,
they don't have a physical address. Nothing."
Little is known about the shadowy Clarion Fund, which is listed with the New
York Secretary of State's office as a "foreign not-for-profit foundation". The
group has rejected requests for information about its donors.
IPS has uncovered one donor to the Clarion Fund, the Mamiye Foundation, which
gave it $25,000 in August 2007, according to tax filings. Four Mamiye members:
Charles M, Charles D, Hyman and Abraham, are listed as trustees on the forms.
According to filings with the New York Secretary of State, a contact listed for
a Mamiye company is also the same man listed as a contact and counsel for the
Clarion Fund - Eli D Greenberg of the law firm Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler,
Freeman and Herz.
Foreign nationals and companies, and domestic tax-exempt non-profit
organizations, are prohibited by federal election law from attempting to sway
US elections at any level through either contributions to campaigns or
Morgenstern, EMET's spokesman, said that the DVD distribution only went to
"swing states" because media attention was focused there, and EMET was hoping
to spark a public debate about the threats posed by" radical Islam".
But the Washington-based CAIR has filed a complaint asking the Federal Election
Commission to review the actions of the Clarion Fund both as a foreign entity
and as a non-profit outfit.