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WILLIAMS: ‘Financing the Flames’ while on a burned-out budget

- - Sunday, November 3, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On a trip to Israel several years ago, I met and bonded with the Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and award-winning author Edwin Black. He has been a guest on my TV and radio shows on several occasions. When he asked me to be a part of his new publication, "Financing the Flames," I was more than pleased and the invitation prompted me to write this piece to share his work with the world.

Our country is wracked by one budget crisis after another. When the IRS permits an organization to enjoy 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, every American must pay the difference. Knowledgeable tax analysts tell us that for every $1 million in donations received by a 501(c)(3) charity, $440,000 of the total is subsidized by taxpayers. That is why we must ensure that taxpayer dollars going to activities in Israel are working to achieve peace and reconciliation — which remains an American priority in the Middle East.

But now we learn in Mr. Black's powerful new book, "Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel," that some of the biggest tax-exempt American organizations operating in Israel are doing the opposite. Mr. Black cites prominent critics in Israel who say these organizations are devoted not to charitable works but to political turmoil and confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis. And this agitation is powered by U.S. taxpayer money.

Many of the most vocal critics in Israel's Knesset point to the prestigious New Israel Fund (NIF) as the top culprit in the agitation business.

The NIF steers millions of dollars to scores of "confrontation NGOs" who work to promote friction between Arabs and Jews in Israel. So say leading voices from Israel's military and legislature, the Knesset. One of the most criticized NGOs is B'Tselem, which distributes video cameras to Arab villages that are known for orchestrated riots. Mr. Black reports that "many charge the cameras are calculated to capture the scene after soldiers are taunted into finally reacting."

Col. Benny Yanay represents Consensus, an organization of hundreds of IDF officers. NIF, according to Col. Yanay, "acts against Israel — against the soldiers of our country. It is important to me that people recognize the New Israel Fund for what it is. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened." He adds, "Their budget is more than anything we have — so it is not a fair fight. We are not a political organization. They are political."

Another Israeli "confrontation NGO" is Adalah, which has devoted itself to getting Israelis prosecuted for war crimes. Adalah brags that the discredited Goldstone Report, criticized for its harsh review of Israel's actions in the 2009 Gaza War, "contains 35 direct references to Adalah on ten separate legal cases and mentions many other Gaza cases handled by Adalah without specifically citing the organization." The organization's website add, "The Goldstone Mission dedicated an entire chapter relying extensively on Adalah's report."

In 2011, Adalah received $84,000 in grants from the NIF, in addition to $321,275 in pass-through grants, where third parties funneled tax-deductible money through the NIF. In 2011, B'Tselem got $158,053 through the NIF and in 2012, the total hit $255,477. All of NIF's U.S. donations enjoyed tax-exempt status

Here is what top Israeli legislators told Mr. Black. Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Yoni Chetboun did not mince words when he said, on the record, "The main goal of the NIF is to undermine the Israeli Army, by knowingly financing left-wing Israeli groups that try to get young Israeli soldiers prosecuted for war crimes." Knesset member Yariv Levin said the same: "The NIF's lobbying and its funding activities are all part of a campaign to destabilize the IDF. They want to ruin the good name of the IDF, making it more possible to take soldiers to international courts." Knesset member Faina Kershenbaum flatly stated, "Yes, the NIF is trying to destabilize and delegitimize the army," adding, "In my opinion, the goal of the NIF and all its grantee organizations is to change the priorities of the Israeli nation and people."

The New Israel Fund itself told Mr. Black, "We are not about soup kitchens. We are about social change." But the organization dismisses the critics Mr. Black cites as just a bunch of right-wing political opponents. Yes, the Knesset critics are indeed considered to be from the political right. But the three lawmakers argue that NIF's response only proves their point — that the NIF is political. They insist the NIF is not merely a charity but actually a powerful political organization, propelled by huge American tax subsidies. Indeed, these legislators and others complain that the NIF functions as the biggest and most powerful political lobby in the Knesset — using our money as its political war chest.

This book changes everything we know about so-called charitable group working in Israel. "Financing the Flames" is simply compelling. Mr. Black has proven himself an expert on the Middle East, a watchdog who has exposed genocide, corporate criminality and corruption, governmental misconduct and oil addiction in his career. With his latest work, the author now focuses his awesome in-depth research powers on the taxpayer monies that actually obstruct peace in Israel and facilitate the culture of violence and terrorism.

American policy is to support peace and reconciliation through millions of dollars contributed by every man, woman and child in this country. But now we see that the opposite has been achieved. American money is being misused by dozens of agitation NGOs not to undertake charitable works but to "finance the flames" of conflict.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book "Reawakening Virtues." Join him from 4 to 5 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.