New 'alternative Zionist fund' supporting right-wing settler groups
The Israel Independence fundraises money for an organization that reports to settlers on IDF movements in the West Bank. What links it to the National Union party, the prime minister's sister-in-law and a U.S. millionaire?
The announcement was posted three weeks ago at 1:23 in the morning on the popular Israeli website Rotter.net (Hebrew only): "Tonight again, warning about [Israeli] forces in Samaria. Roadblocks in the direction of Yitzhar." The post continued: "Tatzpit [Observation] news agency reports that police and army forces are now deployed across Samaria. The report received by Tatzpit cites roadblocks in the Yitzhar area. It is also reported that right-wing activists who followed a police convoy that was traveling toward Samaria were detained by the police."
This wasn't the only report by Tatzpit in recent months that was aimed at updating activists seeking to block the possible evacuation of settlers in the West Bank. Forty-eight hours earlier, during a wild night that saw right-wingers invade the base of the Ephraim Brigade, Tatzpit reported on its Facebook page: "The police forces have just stopped between Shilo and Eli. The forces are escorting two bulldozers, a bus and jeeps." Also: "Jinspot junction near Ramat Gilad has been blocked to movement of Jews. The fear of demolition tonight is mounting!"
Who solicits donations for this group, which aids the right-wing struggle against the Israel Defense Forces? An investigation by Haaretz Magazine finds that the donations to Tatzpit and to several other right-wing groups pass through an organization called the "Israel Independence Fund [Hakeren Le'atzmaut Yisrael] - Public Benefit Company Ltd," founded in 2007. The chairman is Nachman Eyal, from the settlement of Psagot, a well-known activist who is also the director general of the National Union party. One member of the company's board of directors is attorney Dafna Netanyahu, the prime minister's sister-in-law.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, chairman of the National Security Council since March, was a board member of the Independence Fund from the day it was founded. Notification that he was no longer on the board was conveyed to the registrar of companies in May, two months after his appointment in the Prime Minister's Office. Amidror told Haaretz Magazine, however, that he has not been involved in the fund for more than a year, and that when he was on the board he did not support the activity of Tatzpit.
"The moment I felt that I could not accept everything that others in the fund thought should be done, I left," he says.
A year after the founding of the Independence Fund, a not-for-profit body with the identical name in English was established in the United States. The two groups were supposed to work together, but because of differences went their separate ways. At the beginning of 2010, after two years of inactivity, the Israeli organization "came back to life." This was the period in which the left-wing New Israel Fund was under assault from various quarters, and for the IIF this was an excellent opportunity for self-promoting PR.
Under the headline, "Positing an alternative to the [New Israel] Fund," Eyal wrote on the Hebrew website of Arutz Sheva, "It is well known that the mafia's methods for acquiring legitimization and money-laundering passed through charitable institutions and funds." He went on to attack the NIF, declaring, "We must fight the fund with all our might and tear the mask of hypocrisy off its face, as those in Im Tirtzu [which aims to combat what it calls anti-Zionist phenomena] did. However, to meet the needs of the bodies that require financial aid for positive activity, we need to do good. To that end, an alternative Zionist Jewish fund has been established. The new Zionist fund, provisionally named the Israel Independence Fund, operates under the presidency of Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael Aumann ... The fund will work in the near future to posit a worthy alternative to the New Israel Fund." [Aumann's office did not wish to comment, and neither confirmed nor denied this information.]
Shield of Israel
"Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates." This inspiring verse from Zechariah greets visitors to the second floor of the building at 58 King George Street in Jerusalem, where the nerve center of the "worthy alternative" is located. To the right of the wall on which the biblical verse is inscribed is the office of MK Uri Ariel of the National Union; a little further inside is the office of the party's leader, MK Yaakov Katz. Katz's office occupies one room in a closed complex, whose other rooms are used by several organizations subsumed under the general name of The Shield of Israel.
"Our strength lies in our unity," the latter's Hebrew website declares, and explains, "The Shield of Israel incorporates different groups which are working together to achieve goals. No longer each on his own, together we are creating a layer of defense, and working to strengthen Israel and protect it from those who hate it."
Six different movements are represented in the crowded offices under the rubric of the Shield (www.tsi.org.il/english/default.asp). They are: Uvda (Fact) - a college "for training nationalist journalists"; Green Now - "environmental education and public and legal efforts to remove environmental hazards"; Land of Israel Forum - a Bar-Ilan University student organization; Tadmit (Image) - "Israel media watch"; the Tatzpit news agency; and the best known of the lot: the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.
The forum, a registered association since 2005, works, according to its website, to promote "human rights and sound government, fighting to inculcate Zionist values and maintaining the national interests of the State of Israel and the Jewish people."
The forum, which in 2010 received donations totaling NIS 940,000 (an increase of nearly 50 percent over the previous year), is headed by the same Nachman Eyal of the IIF. About NIS 870,000 was donated in 2010 to the Legal Forum by the Central Fund for Israel, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization - a conduit for the transfer of funds to right-wing groups in Israel - and about NIS 40,000 came from the IIF.
A perusal of its reports reveals that in 2010 the forum spent only slightly more than 10 percent of its donations, about NIS 107,000, on "legal care." Another NIS 145,000 covered publicity. Salaries accounted for NIS 450,000, of which NIS 150,000 were paid to the association's foreign liaison, Moshe Eyal, Nachman's brother. The year before, the director general's brother was paid a salary of NIS 187,000. In 2008, by the way, the Legal Forum spent only about NIS 27,000 on legal activity, but 10 times as much on salaries, to the tune of NIS 274,000.
Moshe Eyal declined to respond when asked what his position is in the forum.
In general, the atmosphere at 58 King George Street is quite family-like. Nachman Eyal's son, Amotz, 24, is also ensconced there as head of Tatzpit, which he defines as a news agency and which he founded over a year ago. Despite his age, Amotz is already a well-known figure among Greater Israel activists.
"We complain that the media does not provide our side [of the story], but a slightly deeper examination proves that we, too, are at fault," he said in an interview with Arutz Sheva. "We simply do not send materials, whereas the other side documents every provocation it organizes, edits [the item about it] and transmits it to the newspapers."
Eyal decided to do as his opponents do - in this case, B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which among other things distributed video cameras to Palestinians. Tatzpit handed out cameras to settlers to document attacks by Palestinians, left-wing activities and demolitions carried out by the Civil Administration. The cameras were the gift of an American donor, he says. Tatzpit also reports the movements of IDF troops ahead of possible settlement evacuations. In a conversation in his office, Eyal insists that he is engaged in pure journalism, but adds that he has no problem with the fact that the information also reaches activists who oppose evacuations.
"Our activists monitor IDF convoys," Amotz Eyal explains, when asked where the information about the soldiers' movements comes from. In a later conversation, when asked who is behind the IIF, he mentions only "Pulver, who is no longer there." He says Tatzpit never received money directly from the fund.
Pulver is Aharon Pulver, a resident of Kfar Vradim in Galilee who was one of the founders of the Israeli branch of the IIF and now represents its American namesake in Israel. He does not mention Amotz Eyal's father, who is one of the top figures in the fund, until he is asked a direct question about him.
For his part, Nachman Eyal said in response to this article: "The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, the Israel Independence Fund and everyone mentioned in Mr. Blau's questions are operating lawfully and under the guidelines of the relevant authorities. The Tatzpit news agency transmits information to the media and to journalists (including Haaretz reporters) and operates in the same way as every news agency in Israel and the world, updating reporters and photographers with the purpose of documenting news events."
Between association and company
The IIF includes in its official name the term "public benefit company." Such companies, like nonprofit associations in Israel, are supervised by the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations. As a result, it operates with high transparency. In contrast to an association, a PBC is allowed to make profits utilized to underwrite public activities. However, despite its unequivocal name, the IIF is in fact registered as a full-fledged private company, and is thus not supervised by the Registrar of Nonprofits.
On this subject Yaakov Amidror, one of the IIF's founders, says he "doesn't understand anything about this." His suggestion: "Ask a lawyer."
The Justice Ministry states in a formal response: "An examination carried out of the companies listed in the Israel Corporate Authority found that the Israel Independence Fund is still registered as a private company and has not yet arranged its registration as a public benefit company (PBC) as is required after a change in the law [in 2007] and in the light of the company's goals. In the wake of the query [by Haaretz Magazine], a letter was sent to the company, demanding that it arrange its registration with the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations. Should it fail to comply, the registrar will act according to his authority."
The Haaretz Magazine inquiry also discovered that the IIF's reports to the Corporate Authority concerning changes in its board of directors were submitted long after the fact, even though the law requires that such information be conveyed within 14 days.
The Justice Ministry confirmed that the late report conflicts prima facie with the Companies Law and that this is a well-known problem in many companies.
Dafna Netanyahu, who by the way is also a member of Israel's Media Watch (known in Hebrew as the Association for the Public's Right to Know), refused to answer questions about the Independence Fund.
A U.S. millionaire and illegal land grabs
In 2008, the Israel Independence Fund was founded in New York. The nonprofit’s declared areas of activity are philanthropy, volunteering and distributing grants. The person behind the fund is Kenneth Abramowitz, a New York businessman and partner in NGN Capital, which describes itself as “a venture capital firm dedicated to health-care investing.”
Abramowitz is also national chairman of American Friends of Likud and donated thousands of shekels to the campaigns of Yisrael Katz and Yuli Edelstein in the last party primaries. He also appears on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “list of millionaires” − i.e., potential donors to Likud’s 2007 primaries. The existence of the list was exposed last year by the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
Abramowitz is also a hefty donor to Israel’s Media Watch (in which Dafna Netanyahu, as mentioned, is a member). The donation is used to fund a journalism prize in his name. At the awards ceremony last year he said that apart from the freebie Israel Hayom, financed by Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the media in Israel are not objective.
In a phone call to New York, Abramowitz suggested that I contact Aharon Pulver. The latter confirmed that the original idea had been to use the Israeli fund as an arm of the American one with the identical name, but differences that arose between the two over the nature and modes of activity led to a parting of the ways.
“The framework that existed was not suited to the American body,” Pulver says.
In the wake of the split, Pulver left the Israeli fund and established a new association, Keren Nahlat Atzmaut Yisrael, which has no official English name but serves as the executive arm of the American IIF. The latter’s report to the Internal Revenue Service declares that it raised about $250,000 in 2009, twice the amount of the previous year.
“We concentrate on how to strengthen Israel’s Zionist and Jewish ethos,” Pulver says.
Despite Abramowitz’s unequivocal affiliation with the right wing, Pulver terms the fund apolitical. According to www.fundisrael.org (in English), the American IIF supports, among others: the New Guardian Organization, which is “determined to prevent thefts of land, which is in reality the ongoing struggle for the existence of the State of Israel, a struggle which has never ended”; Birthright for Israeli soldiers; Regavim, which monitors “illegal construction and illegal land grabs throughout Israel”; Hatzalah Yehuda & Shomron (Rescue − Judea and Samaria), “a voluntary humanitarian organization that provides emergency medical services and support for security activities in conflict areas throughout Israel”; Adir Ba’Marom, a technical school in the Golan Heights “leading to full-time technical positions in the Israel Air Force”; and NGO Monitor, a “research organization that combats delegitimization campaigns against Israel by exposing the agendas of politicized human rights NGOs (such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International).”