Israeli big business funds ‘McCarthyite’ group
The conversion NIS – New Israeli Shekels – to sterling is approximate
Among donors is The Azrieli Group, which claims it has no political agenda.
By Uri Blau, Haaretz
“The Azrieli Group is deeply committed to improving and advancing the community, and social responsibility is an integral part of the company’s business program.” This is how one of the most powerful business groups in the Israeli economy − a shareholder in Bank Leumi and LeumiCard, which has 13 malls throughout the country and a controlling share in the Sonol, Tambour and Supergaz companies − introduces itself. Haaretz Magazine is revealing here for the first time that this “social responsibility” includes a substantial donation to the right-wing Im Tirtzu movement.
Naturally, companies that raise donations for organizations tend to advertise this, and the Azrieli Foundation, which functions as the philanthropic arm of the Azrieli Group, reports on its website about its various activities.
What you won’t find on either the foundation’s or company’s websites is that in 2010 the Azrieli Group apparently donated NIS 30,000 [about £5,000] to Im Tirtzu. But following publication of this article in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz Magazine last week, the Azrieli Group Facebook page was updated to include the following comment: “The Azrieli Group, through the Azrieli Foundation, has donated more than NIS 40 million [£6.65m] to projects for the advancement of society in Israel. Two years ago NIS 30,000 was donated by Kanit Azrieli [the privately owned company that owns the Azrieli malls] to a project to stop the academic boycott of Israel. This project was spearheaded by Im Tirtzu at the time, and other companies joined the effort. We would like to emphasize that we are not tainted by any political considerations, and have Israel’s best interests at heart.”
Haaretz Magazine has also found that Leo Schachter, Israel’s second-largest exporter of processed diamonds, donated NIS 74,000 [£12,310] to Im Tirtzu last year. That same year, the company, which is headed by Elliot Tannenbaum, who immigrated from the United States in the early 1980s, exported $359 million [£230m]worth of diamonds. Sources in the company say that Tannenbaum decides with his wife Debbie on the donations made by the company. Tannenbaum’s office said in his name that they are not interested in commenting on the matter.
Im Tirtzu, registered in January 2007 as a nonprofit organization [NPO] by Ronen Shoval, calls itself on its website “an extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel.” Its objectives, adds the site, “focus on working toward a renewal of the Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology, to ensure the future of the Jewish nation and of the State of Israel and to advance Israeli society in coping with the challenges it faces.”
But in the past two years, hardly a week has gone by without the organization appearing in the headlines − often in controversial contexts.
Earlier this month, for example, Bank Leumi cancelled its “Two Million Reasons” project, through which it planned to distribute NIS 2 million [£333,000] to welfare organizations, following the uproar that arose when it became known that Im Tirtzu also wanted to participate in the project. In this context, it should also be noted that Im Tirtzu keeps its accounts at Bank Leumi, as evidenced by the association’s 2008 budget report.
It appears that the media fuss surrounding Im Tirtzu’s activity is only helping it. This can be seen in the scope of the organization’s activity, which has been steadily growing since its inception.
In 2007 it reported to the registrar of non-profit organizations on donations totaling NIS 260,000 [£43,250] (including NIS 97,000 designated for the “Winograd Campaign,” which called for the Winograd commission to issue personal findings about the conduct of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert). That same year, the organization reported hasbara (public relations-related) activity totally NIS 80,000 [£13,300]
According to Im Tirtzu’s most recent financial report, in 2010 it spent NIS 1.14 million on [£189,630] hasbara and advertising (more than 10 times what it spent in 2009). The report also reveals that last year it received donations totaling NIS 1.66 million [£276,135], almost four times as much as in 2009, when they amounted to NIS 456,000. In 2010 the organization spent NIS 68,000 on “events and activities,” and under the heading “salaries and related expenses” reported spending approximately NIS 250,000 [£41,587]. Incidentally, the cost of fundraising efforts in 2010 was close to NIS 70,000 (nearly nine times the sum from the previous year).
Im Tirtzu also reports that it employs 12 people and that 4,200 people did volunteer work for it in 2010. At the top of the salary list are the head of the missions department, Aharon Noam; spokesperson Erez Tadmor; and head of the activists’ department, Amit Barak. Each earns about NIS 77,000 a year, gross [£12,800].
An interesting comment by the organization’s oversight committee was made regarding a relatively negligible outlay of NIS 33,000 for legal expenses in 2010: “It is important to note that the organization’s legal expenses (as a plaintiff) are purely hasbara activity and so we view this as a legitimate and appropriate expense,” the committee reported to the NPO registrar.
Aside from the Azrieli Group and Leo Schachter Diamonds, the group mentions three other bodies from which it received donations in 2010 exceeding NIS 20,000,[£3,300] the maximum amount for a donation whose source needn’t be listed.
Keren Segal Leyisrael − a fund whose declared objective is “to establish, develop and manage educational and cultural projects about Israel’s heritage and the Jewish community in Jerusalem and Israel,” and which is headed by Jerusalem businessman Yotam Bar-Hama − donated NIS 77,000 to Im Tirtzu last year. In 2008, it donated NIS 190,000 [£31,600]to Im Tirtzu. Bar-Hama declined to explain the motives behind the donation, and said only that the fund’s money comes from his family abroad.
Another organization called The Forum for Religious Zionism donated NIS 74,000 to the movement last year. This is a new organization that was registered in 2010 in the name of Zvi Soibel, former director of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh. Asked why the forum decided to donate to Im Tirtzu, he said: “Our organization works to achieve its objectives that were properly set, and it means to keep on doing so in the future. Among other things, the organization organizes, directly and through other organizations, cultural events related to the State of Israel.”
Since its founding, Im Tirtzu has also been supported by the Central Israel Fund, a U.S.-based NPO. The fund, which according to its latest U.S. income tax return, raised nearly $10.5 million in 2010, says that it aids the needy and supports various educational and community projects. Central Israel, which transferred NIS 95,000 [£15,800] to Im Tirtzu last year, raises money for strongly right-wing organizations like Women in Green, and the Hananu organization, which provides legal aid to rightists and in the past even gave money to Yigal Amir [the assassin of Prime Minister Rabin].
Some of the contributors to Im Tirtzu have been revealed in the past. In 2008, the organization received a donation of NIS 374,000 [£62,200] from the American organization Christians United for Israel, and in 2009 it received the same sum from them. This organization is headed by Father John Hagee, who once said that “God sent Hitler as a hunter to force the Jews to move to Israel in anticipation of Judgment Day.” This money, by the way, was not transferred directly to Im Tirtzu, but rather via the Jewish Agency.
Two weeks ago, Shahar Ginossar reported in Yedioth Ahronoth that in 2008 a man by the name of Adam Horowitz donated NIS 75,000 to Im Tirtzu. according to the report, in Isarel there are three people by this name. Two have denied any connection to the donation and the third, a Likud activist close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said, “It must be another Horowitz.”