Harel - Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod - February 24, 2012
Israel Harel. IZS founder. Photo by Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod
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Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod
Max Singer. Hudson founder. Photo by Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod
Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod
Yoel Golovensky. IZS president. Photo by Tomer Appelbaun and Moti Milrod
Moti Milrod
Yoaz Hendel in Tel Aviv, December 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
Hagai Offen
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky at a conference last year. He says the Agency’s new focus will bring in more immigrants. Photo by Hagai Offen
Tal Nissim
Moshe Ya'alon at Herzliya Conference, Feb. 2, 2012. Photo by Tal Nissim

 

In recent years, the Institute for Zionist Strategies has become a key player in a drive to confer ideological validation on the hawkish line of the current right-wing government. An investigative report by Haaretz finds that not only is the institute's activity basically similar to that of the conservative American think tanks that blossomed during the presidency of George W. Bush; it is also partially funded by the same people who underwrote the U.S. organizations.

The Institute for Zionist Strategies was registered as a nonprofit association in Jerusalem in November 2004. Its founder is Israel Harel, a journalist who was the editor-in-chief of Nekuda, the settlers' journal, and served as the first chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements. The institute's president is attorney Yoel Golovensky, a Jewish-community activist from New York who immigrated to Israel in 1987, held several senior positions in the Jewish Agency and in 1999 was appointed director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Russian Department in Moscow. Golovensky is also the chairman of NGO Monitor, which in 2010 received a donation of more than NIS 500,000 through the Jewish Agency but did not reveal the source of the money.

A distinct right-wing political thrust is apparent in the identity of the individuals involved in founding the institute and abetting its activity. Among the politicians who took a "personal part," as the institute describes it, in founding the association, three - Natan Sharansky, Moshe Arens and Moshe Ya'alon - have held senior governmental positions on behalf of Likud. Another big name on the institute's advisory committee is Nobel laureate Prof. Israel Aumann. Others who have served on the committee are Yaakov Amidror, currently the national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, the minister of science and technology and head of the Habayit Hayehudi party.

The institute also has a strategic forum, according to a report it submitted to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations a year ago. The list of the forum's members, as of 2009, included Dror Eydar, a publicist in the freebie newspaper Israel Hayom and a strong supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu; Dr. Yoaz Hendel, presently head of the National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister's Office; and Amnon Lord, editor-in-chief of the right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon.

Patriotic Zionist education

Among the institute's aims, as set forth upon its establishment, are the promotion of education and research and "developing a generation of public leaders" in all realms of Israeli society. The IZS website notes that the institute's strategic missions "focus on the long-range challenges threatening the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state." How are these goals translated into concrete action? In 2010, for example, the IZS published the abstract of a report entitled "Post-Zionism in the Academy," which examined the syllabus and faculty in university sociology departments in Israel. This report recalls an earlier paper by Im Tirtzu, another group that seeks to advance "the values of Zionism in Israel." That report surveyed university political science departments. (Two of the founders of Im Tirtzu, Ronen Shoval and Erez Tadmor, previously took part in an IZS "young leadership program." )

The abstract contains lists of "post-Zionist" university faculty. The report found that "all Israeli universities, except for Bar-Ilan University, exhibit a clear post-Zionist bias in their sociology departments," and says the phenomenon is "exceptionally severe" on campuses in Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva. According to the abstract - which does not cite the names of the paper's author or authors - the post-Zionist trend derives from a range of theories. However, what they all have in common is "the belief that the Jewish character of the state entirely prevents it from being democratic." Moreover, "The group of critical sociologists who form the backbone of the post-Zionist movement gradually took over the sociology departments on many campuses and continues to hold them captive to this day despite the widespread opposition of the Israeli public."

The publication of the abstract prompted the Knesset's Education Committee to hold a discussion of the issues raised. The committee was shown a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the IZS by Dr. Hanan Mozes, a political scientist who teaches at Bar-Ilan University and lives in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim. His doctoral supervisor was Prof. Asher Cohen, who is on the IZS advisory committee. The presentation, entitled "Anti-Zionism in the Israeli Academy," stated that "close-knit cooperation" exists between academia and "civil organizations bearing a left-wing to radical left-wing orientation, stemming from the active membership of senior academics in these organizations." Publication of the abstract led the president of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Joseph Klafter, to take an unusual step. As revealed by reporter Or Kashti in Haaretz, Klafter asked to see the syllabuses of several courses in the university's Sociology Department. This generated criticism and moved the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to state that "only academic considerations shall guide the structure of the curriculum of an institution of higher learning and its syllabus; and a faculty member who has been given responsibility for an academic course shall decide on his own how the subject is to be taught." The statement added, "Every attempt to undermine these principles is unacceptable and has an adverse effect on the independence of the institutions of higher learning and on their ability to fulfill their academic and national mission."

The IZS report appears under the rubric of an "updated draft" from October 2010 on the institute's Hebrew website. (The English site has only the abstract from the draft and adds, "The proposals of this position paper are anticipated to be published in the coming months." ) The IZS stated in response: "The institute's research into the post-Zionist trends in Israeli academia did not continue, after the paper was presented to the Knesset's Education Committee, and the Council for Higher Education took over the handling of the subject."

Universities are not the IZS's only targets. According to another report published by the institute, written by Dr. Yitzhak Geiger, history and civics studies in Israel's high schools are characterized by post-Zionist tendencies that are harmful "to Zionist and patriotic education and to the pupils' commitment to the existence of the State of Israel as a nation-state." It is noteworthy, in this context, that in June 2011 Prof. Asher Cohen, an IZS associate fellow, was appointed chairman of the civics curriculum committee in the Ministry of Education.

Praise for Yachimovich

The IZS publishes position papers, such as one urging legislation to make Hebrew Israel's only official language (thus dropping Arabic ). Another report, entitled "Trojan Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs," published in conjunction with NGO Monitor, examined the extent of support by foreign governments for political organizations in Israel. According to the report, "It is probable that some of these political activities (such as publishing reports about the situation of human rights, which excoriate the State of Israel, and petitioning the High Court of Justice ) would not be possible without foreign governmental funding."

The IZS also calls for a revision of the method of appointing judges in Israel, because "the judges in Israel do not reflect the values of the populace, and thus undermine the principle of democracy and weaken the Jewish identity of the state." The report calls for the reformation of the "undemocratic system" of judicial appointments and its replacement "with a method that will guarantee the judiciary's allegiance to the values of the Israeli citizens." The IZS also publishes a "Zionist Legislation Scale," an index of laws and amendments passed by the Knesset, and "praises the Zionist activism of members of Knesset who excelled at passing these laws." This report recalls to some extent the ranking of right-wing MKs issued twice a year by an NGO called Matot Arim. Its primary criterion is the MKs' contribution to strengthening the settlements. The latest report by the IZS, issued in May 2011, has high praise for MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) and Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ). Also commended are MKs Zeev Elkin (Likud ), Israel Hasson (Kadima ) and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), who was a co-sponsor of the State Flag, Emblem and Anthem Law (which aims to enshrine the importance of the state's emblems and oblige state institutions to purchase made-in-Israel flags ) and of the amendment to the Israel Lands Law, which the IZS says is aimed at making it possible for the state to monitor the identity of people who buy rights to land in Israel.

What is the origin of the funding for this activity, which seeks to influence the Israeli discourse and alter the face of the country? Most of the money comes from abroad. The largest donations - NIS 1.9 million - were received in 2005, following the founding of the IZS. However, the donations and names of the donors were not specified in the institute's report, prompting the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations to inform the IZS that regulations stipulate that the sources of donations must be provided. Nevertheless, the IZS file in the Registrar's office continues to omit this information. The institute did not reply to a question from Haaretz about the source of the 2005 donations and about why the information about sources is missing from the file.

An examination by Haaretz shows that in 2005 the IZS received about $230,000 from the Washington-based Hudson Institute. In 2006, the IZS reported to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations that it received about NIS 470,000 from the Hudson Institute and a further NIS 1.3 million the following year. In the United States such donations are tax deductible; in 2005-2006 the Hudson Institute received support of about a quarter of a million dollars from the U.S. administration.

The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, was founded in 1961 by the attorney Max Singer and the RAND Corporation systems theorist Herman Kahn. Singer, who is a member of the IZS advisory committee and was at one time a signing officer of the institute's bank account, was the patron of Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition figure who provided the Bush administration with false information about Saddam Hussein and is considered a key cause of the American entanglement in the war in Iraq. Singer's wife, Susan Singer, was an associate member of the IZS until 2009.

The Hudson Institute's senior vice president is Lewis "Scooter" Libby. A former adviser to former U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney, Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury for his part in leaking the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency official, Valerie Plame Wilson. Her husband had previously accused the Bush administration of subverting intelligence information in order to find an excuse for invading Iraq.

The IZS states in response: "The institute enjoys funding only from private donors. The Hudson Institute aided the IZS by establishing a separate fund for donations for the institute's work. The Hudson Institute transferred the money to the IZS via a bank transfer in the stages of its establishment, as noted in a report sent to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations. The donations did not come from funds or the current budget of the Hudson Institute, but from a large number of private donors. We wish to reemphasize that the IZS vehemently objects to the violation of the state's sovereignty by means of the funding of political activity in Israel by foreign governments."

Hudson Institute reports state explicitly that funds were transferred directly from the American institute to the IZS, not through any third fund. A response from the Hudson Institute's media liaison unit states: "Hudson merely served as a fiscal agent for the IZS before they obtained their American 501 (c ) (3 ) status. We took contributions on their behalf and maintained proper accounting of them, but we neither solicited the funding nor controlled the IZS research agenda." However, the Hudson Institute did not reply to a question about the source of the donations that were forwarded to the IZS, or about what motivated the cooperation between the two institutes.

The responses of the two institutes show that the Hudson Institute was actually a pipeline for the transfer of funds to the IZS. This raises the question of why the IZS did not make public the true source of the donations transferred to it through the Hudson Institute.

Generous hope

In 2010, the IZS reported receiving donations of NIS 770,000 (almost double the amount of the previous year - NIS 390,000 - and far more than the NIS 180,000 reported for 2008 ). The 2010 donations were received from three different bodies: the Friends of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in the United States, founded in 2009 and listing an Englewood, New Jersey address (NIS 281,000 ); and two other U.S.-based funds: the Roger Hertog Foundation (NIS 298,000 ); and the Tikvah Fund (NIS 187,000 ). The Tikvah Fund was established by the late Jewish-American philanthropist Zalman Bernstein (who also founded the Avi Chai Foundation and Tsav Pius, which seeks to bridge the divides in the Israeli society ). Bernstein died in 1999. This was not the first donation from his estate to the IZS. In 2009, the institute reported a donation of about NIS 187,000 from the Rainbow Foundation, which was also created from funds left by Bernstein.

The chairman of the Tikvah (hope ) Fund is Roger Hertog, who also heads the foundation that bears his name. Hertog, who comes across as one of the chief donors of the IZS, is a Jewish-American businessman and a former co-owner of the New York Sun newspaper. More recently, he has supported the archaeological excavation project at the City of David in Silwan, outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem; according to the report of the Hertog Foundation, he donated $1 million in 2010 to the American friends organization of the ultranationalist group Elad, which manages the City of David site. The Hertog Foundation, which made donations totaling $15.5 million that year, also gave $1 million to Birthright, an organization that brings Jewish students to Israel for a short but intensive visit; $100,000 to the George Bush Foundation; $595,000 to the Hudson Institute; and $5,000 to the Central Israel Fund, a major organization in the United States for transferring money to right-wing groups in Israel.

Hertog did not reply to queries from Haaretz about his donations policy. By the way, in the last Likud primaries Hertog donated NIS 9,000 to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, and last month he made a donation of $5,000 to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ran successfully for leader of Likud. W