2015 was a good year for Im Tirtzu. The financial reports it submitted to the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations showed that donations to the virulently anti-leftist group had soared from NIS 1.7 million (about $480,000) to about NIS 7 million.
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The report identifies the major donor to the movement, which gave it about NIS 3.7 million, as “Shining City.” This is the first time this organization has been mentioned as a donor to Im Tirtzu. Another donor mentioned for the first time in the reports is Americans for Jerusalem, which gave the movement NIS 995,000.
Apart from the donor organizations’ names and amounts of donations, details that are required by the Registrar of Nonprofit Associations, the Im Tirtzu financial reports reveal nothing about who exactly sent millions of shekels to its bank account. As Im Tirtzu frequently attacks the funding sources of leftist and human rights organizations, I asked a senior member of the organization whether there isn’t something odd about this. “Anyone who wants to find information can look on Google,” he replied, ignoring that there are more than 40 organizations around the world registered as Shining City.
Now Haaretz has discovered that behind the two hefty contributions to Im Tirtzu were American organizations connected to close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their legal structure allows for transfer of funds whose source is undisclosed.
Shining City is a body run by wealthy individuals close to Netanyahu and the Republican Party, and it conducted a campaign in the United States against former President Barack Obama. The organization’s website was registered by Vincent Harris, Netanyahu’s American political strategist in the last election in Israel.
The other donor, Americans for Jerusalem, is registered at the New York address of the philanthropic foundation of businessman and former Netanyahu associate Ronald Lauder. The organization is managed by Lauder’s aide Allen Roth. On the eve of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, it was reported that Americans for Jerusalem had initiated registration of American voters living in Israel. Roth, who has not replied to a Haaretz query, is also president of an organization called Secure America Now, which worked to thwart Obama’s 2012 reelection.
Both of these organizations are registered under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) for organizations engaged in promoting social objectives, which enables them to direct some of their money to advancing political goals without revealing their sources of funding.
Shining City was founded in Virginia in late 2014 to educate the public on “relations between Israel and the USA” and America’s political relationships in the Middle East. It was registered by the law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, which specializes in developing financial mechanisms to fund conservative causes and Republican candidates. According to a Bloomberg report, the firm was involved in registering companies that donated $250 million to campaigns connected to the 2012 presidential election.
Shining City operated mostly during the 2015 Knesset election campaign, when the nuclear agreement with Iran was under discussion in the United States. At the beginning of 2015, after Netanyahu was invited to speak before Congress, the organization promoted the speech on social media and lauded Netanyahu.
Though Shining City is still registered as an active organization, it is hard to find any mention of its current activity. Its website has shut down and there have been no tweets in its Twitter account since the end of 2015. Infrequently, its Facebook page still shares things, among them statements by Netanyahu.
According to official statements filed in the name of Shining City in Virginia, the group had three directors in 2016 – Phil Rosen, Eliot Lauer and Andrew (Andy) Albstein. All are prominent New York attorneys and at least two of them are close to Netanyahu and the Republican Party.
Rosen is a partner in the firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges, where he heads the real estate and infrastructure practices. He has served as president of American Friends of Likud and is considered a friend of Netanyahu.
Rosen is also a member of the directorate of the Republican Jewish Coalition, of which another donor close to Netanyahu is Sheldon Adelson. Rosen said neither he nor other directors of Shining City funded its activities and refused to say who did. He also said he does not recall donations to Im Tirtzu. He promised to get back to Haaretz after looking into the matter but did not do so despite repeated requests.
Lauer, the treasurer of the Republican Jewish Coalition, is a lawyer with the firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle but is best known as the attorney for Jonathan Pollard, who served a 30-year U.S. prison term for spying on behalf of Israel. Last year Lauer was among the organizers of a fundraising event for Senator Ted Cruz, who ran in the Republican primaries. In 2012, he donated $3,000 to Netanyahu and also gave financial support to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Also among the hosts of the Cruz event last year was Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, who was listed the previous year as president of Shining City. A few weeks ago it was reported that Lightstone would be appointed as an adviser to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, but there has been no official confirmation of this report. Lightstone refused to answer questions from Haaretz and said only that he is no longer working with Shining City.
The third director at Shining City, Albstein, is a New York real estate lawyer. He told Haaretz he became acquainted with Lightstone through another person involved in pro-Israel political activity, but refused to give that person’s name. Albstein, too, refused to say who funds the organization, which he said to the best of his knowledge is currently inactive. When asked about the donation to Im Tirtzu, he replied he was not familiar with any such donation but that does not mean it was not given.
According to newspaper reports in recent years, there were once extensive connections between Im Tirtzu and Netanyahu. Journalist Raviv Drucker found that Netanyahu had approached businesspeople to donate to the Israel Defense Forces “reservists’ protest” against his predecessor Ehud Olmert after the Second Lebanon War, a protest in which Im Tirtzu was a leader. According to Drucker, Netanyahu connected the organization with evangelical Pastor John Hagee, who became one of its donors.
Im Tirtzu stated in its financial report that most of its expenses in 2015, about 4 million shekels, went for public relations and publications. At the end of 2015, Im Tirtzu launched its campaign depicting human rights workers as defenders of terrorism. The movement is now promoting a code of ethics for academia, composed by philosophy Prof. Asa Kasher.
Im Tirtzu responded that most of its donors today “are Israelis, but we are pleased to find private donors from around the world as well (individuals and private foundations) who support our important activity and thereby try to strengthen the Jewish and democratic identity of the State of Israel. The guideline in the movement with regard to raising funds is non-acceptance of money from any foreign state entity or foundations that promote delegitimization of Israeli society. The Im Tirtzu movement does not examine the political opinions of those who seek to donate to it. We are deeply grateful to every donor who helps Im Tirtzu in its extensive activity for the Jewish people and we are not surprised that many people in Israel and abroad are prepared to place their trust in us and invest in us. With God’s help, we will continue to go from strength to strength in our activity for the State of Israel.”