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    Middle East
     Sep 26, 2008
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 presidential elections.

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 Aish Hatorah.

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 way.

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 City.

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 mystery.

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 $50 million.

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).

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 process.

Ben Aharon was the director general - effectively the chief of staff - of Shamir's office.

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 to Israel.

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 advocacy.

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.

(Jim Lobe contributed to this story.)

(Inter Press Service)

 


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