Follow the money: Zionist backlash and Islamophobia

New report exposes the extent to which anti-Muslim, anti-Palestine campaigns are profit-motivated.

A Palestinian demonstrator throws a rock towards Israeli security forces during clashes following a protest against the expansion of settlements in a West Bank village, north of Ramallah [
A Palestinian demonstrator throws a rock at Israeli forces after a protest against settlements expansion in the West Bank [AFP]

Back when former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin styled himself “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”, many folks rightly saw it as kooky talk.

But as becomes more apparent with each passing day, the same dubious reaction should greet the US government’s self-identification as a “democracy” – a meaningless euphemism that serves as a front for a blissfully plutocratic system.

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And while most of us are presumably aware, on some level, of the relationship between obscene wealth and political power, it’s always helpful to have the arrangement clearly spelled out.

Backlash business

The latest report by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) does exactly this.

Titled “The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and other Movements for Social Justice“, the report highlights 11 of the most significant funders of the campaign to silence criticism of Israel and quash solidarity with Palestine. Among them are the Koch brothers, the Sheldon Adelson Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

The campaign is being waged via hundreds of millions of dollars in propaganda, surveillance, and legal efforts, including the propagation of the falsehood that opposition to Israeli policies constitutes anti-Semitism. Other efforts range from spying on pro-Palestine activists to leveling accusations of support for terrorism against university professors who are a tad too vocal regarding Palestinian rights.

Inextricably linked to the backlash industry is the Islamophobia industry, which revolves around a fearmongering demonisation of Arabs and Muslims intended to legitimise both US and Israeli bellicose machinations in a region with highly coveted resources.

Some make the case that an extraordinarily powerful Jewish lobby has seduced the US administration into pursuing pro-Israel policies in defiance of its own interests. But what are US interests in the end if not the multiplication of riches belonging to the national elite, who use them to influence government behaviour?


The flow of money

The extent of investment in these industries defies precise determination, IJAN notes, thanks to the use of donor-advised funds and other intermediaries that help obscure the flow of money. But the figures on publicly available tax forms already confirm we’re talking big business.

Out of the 11 donors profiled in the report, for example, eight of them have in recent years given large sums to Daniel Pipes, president and founder of Middle East Forum (MEF) – just one of an abundance of US-based bastions of Islamophobia – who dutifully performs his own anti-Muslim routine while also funneling money to other like-minded bastions.

In 2010-11, MEF received nearly $4 million from Donors Capital, a donor-advised fund through which the Koch brothers are known to run their money. Others did slightly less damage. One fund gave $987,000 in 2012 but broke it into 77 separate donations “in order to give the appearance of grassroots support”.

And this is but a small sampling of the anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim money in circulation; the list goes on.

According to IJAN, the Irving Moskowitz Foundation has in recent years contributed more than $15 million in tax-exempt funds to Jewish settlements in Palestine, while the Adelson Foundation, established by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, gave $32 million in 2012 alone to the Birthright programme.

This programme has, over the past decade and a half, dispatched hundreds of thousands of young Jewish folks on all-expenses paid trips to Israel. Participants are often encouraged to liaise amorously with each other and/or their Israeli army escorts, thereby developing – so the strategy goes – a romantic connection to the appropriated homeland, and possibly plans to immigrate. Lost in the landscape, of course, are things like the legitimate birthright of ethnically cleansed Palestinians.

A ‘vicious cycle’

Some make the case that an extraordinarily powerful Jewish lobby has seduced the US administration into pursuing pro-Israel policies in defiance of its own interests. But what are US interests in the end if not the multiplication of riches belonging to the national elite, who use them to influence government behaviour?

The simple fact is that Israel’s domination of the Palestinians is profitable. As IJAN points out, whether or not individual backlash donors support the Jewish state ideologically, their collective interest in shoring up US support for Israel is financially motivated.

The report describes how the Middle Eastern “chaos” to which the US and Israel regularly contribute “allows for the manipulation of oil prices and endless arms sales in a vicious cycle, to the great profit of the US petroleum corporations, banks, and arms manufacturers”.

Add to this the fact that America’s multibillion-dollar annual donations to Israel largely function as a “way of transferring money through Israel back to US weapons manufacturers”, with Israel’s frenetic weapons acquisitions also fueling regional arms races welcomed by the industry.

And what do you know! More than a few of the characters on IJAN’s list directly profit from the oil and arms trade, not to mention projects involving surveillance, population control, and the militarisation of police forces – some of the areas of study in which Israel has extensive globally marketable expertise thanks to its long-term occupation of Arab land, a convenient “laboratory of repression”.

The transfer of this know-how to the US has been facilitated by well-endowed backlash organisations that help coordinate the training of law enforcement personnel by the Israeli army and intelligence officials, among other forms of collaboration.

Preserving the system

The Palestine solidarity movement is far from the only target of repression in the US, as is clear from violent police responses to Occupy protesters and black people as well as to protests against police brutality itself.

From the perspective of the economic elite, any advancement in the direction of social justice should be combated if it compromises their stranglehold on society. IJAN summarises other funding priorities of the kingpins of backlash and Islamophobia, which span the gamut of conservative causes: climate change denial, anti-abortion activism, anti-gay and transgender rights initiatives, anti-immigrant policies, and attacks on public health care, social security, and the women’s movement.

The Bradley Fund for the Environment, affiliated with the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, even “supports legal actions to block newly recognised endangered species from being registered”.

After all, it’s more important to preserve a global panorama that enables the plunder of resources by a tiny minority – and Zionist backlash plays an integral role.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.