Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2006, pages 28-29
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s “Charity” a Front for Terrorism
By Juan Cole
THE GUILTY plea of fabulously wealthy and highly corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff raised the question of whether he would roll over on congressmen involved in illegal fund-raising and other crimes with him. Some 20 Republicans on Capitol Hill are said to be in danger.
Abramoff’s dense network of illicit finances and phony charities might end some political careers in the United States. But the investigation into his activities by the FBI also shed light on the ways in which right-wing American Jews have often been involved in funding what are essentially terrorist activities by armed land thieves in Palestinian territory.
Indeed, it was this terror funding of Israeli far-right militiamen that tripped Abramoff up, since the FBI discovered that he had misled Indian tribes into giving money to the Jabotinskyites, and then began wondering if he had defrauded the tribes in other ways. (You betcha!) The Indian leaders were furious when they discovered they had been used to oppress another dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians, calling it “Outer Limits bizarre” and saying that they would never have willingly given money to such a cause.
Newsweek’s Mike Issikoff reported last May that Abramoff diverted $140,000 from a charity ostensibly to benefit inner-city youths to militant Israeli colonists who had usurped land in the Palestinian West Bank. Issikoff wrote:
“Among the expenditures: purchases of camouflage suits, sniper scopes, night-vision binoculars, a thermal imager and other material described in foundation records as ‘security’ equipment. The FBI, sources tellNewsweek, is now examining these payments as part of a larger investigation to determine if Abramoff defrauded his Indian tribe clients…”
Abramoff, a legendary lobbyist particularly close to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), is also a fierce supporter of Israel—”a super-Zionist,” one associate says. That may explain why Abramoff’s paramilitary gear ended up in the town of Beitar Illit, a sprawling ultra-Orthodox outpost whose residents have occasionally tangled with their Palestinian neighbors. Yitzhak Pindrus, the settlement’s mayor, says that several years ago the town was confronting mounting security problems. “They [the Palestinians] were throwing stones, they were throwing Molotov cocktails,” Pindrus says. Abramoff’s connection to the town was Schmuel Ben-Zvi, an American emigré who, the lobbyist told associates, was an old friend he knew from Los Angeles. Capital Athletic Foundation public tax records make no mention of Ben-Zvi. But they do show payments to “Kollel Ohel Tiferet” in Israel, a group for which there is no public listing and which the town’s mayor said he never heard of.
Beitar Illit is a colony that the Israelis plunked down in the northern part of the West Bank, which they conquered militarily in 1967. The partition of Palestine in 1948, tragic as it was, had a United Nations Security Council resolution behind it. And the 1949 armistice lines have been implicitly recognized by Egypt and Jordan in their peace treaties with Israel, as well as by the Arab League in its endorsement of then-Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud’s peace plan, which offered Israel recognition and peace for a return to 1949 borders. The 1967 Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza is not of the same sort.
Although some of my readers are under the impression that in the civilized world it is all right to take your neighbor’s land by winning it in warfare, actually the United Nations Charter (to which Israel is a signatory) and the whole body of post-1945 international law frowns on that sort of thing. Likewise both the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 forbid occupying powers to settle their citizens in militarily occupied territories, or, indeed, to make any major alteration in the structure of the conquered societies. Basically, the idea was that as of the late 1940s your nation is stuck with the land it has and you can’t take anyone else’s by force. And if you try, the United Nations Security Council has an obligation to stop you. The Geneva Conventions were framed to prevent further atrocities of a sort committed by the Nazis. It is not only the Nazis who were capable of atrocities; everyone is, which is why we need a rule of law, including international law.
You will note that even though Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait, neither Iran nor Kuwait has made any claim on Iraqi territory (nor are they entitled to do so, given that they are also signatories to the United Nations Charter). That is right. Iran has reacted more properly in the aftermath to the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran War (which Iraq launched) than Israel reacted to the 1967 war (which the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza did not launch). And, after all, the United States conquered Iraq in 2003. Would it be all right to kick the Basrans out of their homes and settle, say, the displaced New Orleans folks in Iraq, just because of this American military victory?
Issikoff is careful to avoid trouble by depicting the weaponry sent by Abramoff as essentially for self-defense. But the colonists are often aggressive, and anyway would not need to defend themselves if they weren’t squatting on other people’s land. And, Israel does have an army. Private militias are always an ugly thing, and have been used by Israeli colonists ethnically to cleanse nearby Palestinian villages.
The Hill reported on June 23, 2005 that some of the money Abramoff used from the charity contributions of the Indian tribes “paid a monthly stipend and Jeep payments to a high-school friend of Abramoff who conducted sniper workshops…” The Hill suggested that the workshops were for Israeli army personnel, but the Israeli army does not need shooting lessons from Yitzhak Pindrus. The sniper lessons were for the colonists, practice for shooting Palestinians.
The Jerusalem Post added on April 24, 2005 of Abramoff’s funding for sniping lessons and “security equipment”:
“Emily Amrussi, a spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, known by its acronym, Yesha, said, ‘I have never before heard of this episode.’ The Yesha Council, under increasing financial scrutiny itself, now receives its entire budget—in the millions of dollars this year—from charity, she said. ‘But it is often impossible to know where the funds originated,’ she added. She said that this particular case has no bearing on the Yesha Council because it is specific to a single West Bank community.
“The Interior Ministry froze all state funding to the Yesha Council following a petition to the High Court of Justice last month by the settlement watch-dog group Peace Now. The petition accuses the settler leadership of chronic improper use of state funds for allegedly illegal activity such as setting up unrecognized outposts.”
Illegal outposts—i.e. establishing foreign colonies on stolen land—is a way of terrorizing the indigenous inhabitants, and it requires a local militia to defend the colonists, along with sniper lessons and night-vision binoculars.
Now here’s the thing. If a Palestinian-American had diverted $140,000 from a Muslim charity to purchase “security equipment” and “sniper lessons” for Palestinians on the West Bank, that individual would be in Gitmo so fast that the sonic boom would rattle your windows.
But here’s a prediction. None of the Jewish extremists, some of them violent, who are invading the West Bank and making the lives of the local Palestinians miserable will ever be branded “terrorists” by the U.S. government, and Abramoff’s foray into providing sniper lessons will be quietly buried.
Terror isn’t terror and aggression is not aggression when it has lobbyists in Congress who can provide luxury vacations and illegal campaign funding.
Juan Cole is professor of history at the University of Michigan. This commentary was first posted on the Informed Comment Web blog Jan. 4, 2006. Reprinted with permission.