Following the money

Investigative journalist Edwin Black sits down to discuss his new book, "Financing the Flames."

Edwin Black (photo credit: Courtesy)
Edwin Black
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Edwin Black approaches his latest mission with zeal to discover the hidden networks of financing that he argues are at the root of nefarious NGOs in Israel.
At the center of this web of cash is the New Israel Fund, which he alleges has plowed “vast monies... directed to scores of Israeli activist and human-rights NGOs working for social change – not a few struggling for total social upheaval of the Israeli order.”
Black, who is on a whirlwind tour of speaking engagements in Israel, including at the Knesset, sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss his work, which appeared in the 2013 book Financing the Flames.
Wearing a spiffy black suit and sporting a close-shaven white beard, he notes, “This is my 11th book and it builds on the my prior 45 years of research and investigation of the Ottomans, Holocaust, Jewish affairs and the Middle East, looking at the state of NGOs and so-called humanitarian organizations in Israel.”
His main line of inquiry focuses on how a human rights agenda in Israel seems to have inflamed tensions. Black knows from his previous work that “as a lifelong investigative reporter, I’ve discovered that when one follows the money streams, the ultimate sources generally reside atop the highest mountains of commerce... the unhappy intersection of big inhumanity and big money,” he writes. He asks now whether “from the American taxpaying point of view, without trying to form a political decision about their content, was their [human-rights NGO] content justifiable for a tax deduction [in the US].”
In writing his book he spoke with members of human rights organizations such as B’Tselem, and he says he visited Nabi Salih, an Arab village and flashpoint of protest on the West Bank, as well as speaking with members of right- and left-wing parties in the Knesset.
“I found I couldn’t write just a 7,000- word article. So instead of doing an article, I wrote a news book. So it could be obsolete tomorrow if things change, which I hope they do.”
His view is that there are many good social change organizations in Israel being financed abroad – and at the top of them is the New Israel Fund, which was founded in 1979. The NIF claims to have funded “almost every significant cause-related progressive NGO in Israel.”
In the book, he notes, “By 2005, the NIF was able to report more than $100 million in funding over the prior four years.”
Black asserts, “My whole premise is that human rights must not be political, all people are entitled to them, they shouldn’t have a political agenda; tax-exempt organizations should not be de facto political parties, with a war chest offered [from the US].”
He shies away from accusations that he is taking a side in Israel’s politics, noting again and again that he doesn’t know the intricacies of Israeli political parties. And his concern is not with the bulk of the organizations in Israel: “About 10 percent are agitation NGOs, the ones involved in inflaming the situation.”
These activists undermine the Jewish state and appear to provoke problems in the West Bank. “I looked at conduct and destabilization of the IDF, undermining the Jewish state,” he says.
In one of his examples of how the human-rights agenda appears to distort images, he points in his book to a 2012 incident where an IDF soldier was filmed kicking a boy. Black journeyed to Hebron with Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B’Tselem. He wonders how the person who filmed the event knew “to focus his camera on a small empty street for a minute and 23 seconds?” Black argues that the video doesn’t tell the whole story, and those he interviewed confirmed that “the children were shouting curses in Hebrew against the soldiers.” Therefore, “clearly, the soldiers overreacted to the taunts.” Yet, “no mention was made of the provocation.”
Indeed, soldiers who were interviewed argued, “The New Israel Fund and B’Tselem are definitely trying to dismantle and destabilize the IDF and disrupt our mission.”
ANOTHER PART of the puzzle that Black sought to uncover was the origins of funding for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
He argues that “although they no longer fund the BDS industry, they [the NIF] helped establish it, through robust funding for the Coalition of Women for Peace. As much as $90,000 in a year [was funded]. They set up an elaborate database called ‘Who profits,’ and went around proliferating the boycott.”
He claims that the BDS movement “could not thrive without two things: the implication [that Israel is guilty] of the violation of international law, and the idea that Israel is an oppressive tyrannical, apartheid regime. In this respect, you look at organizations like Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. And without those stories, without that video and social media, the BDS movement would be quite inert.”
Black tells tales of seeking to figure out who was donating the money and finding shadow organizations, even once tracing “the money to a mobile home in the woods 40 miles from Tampa, Florida.”
In essence, there are many things Americans don’t know about where donations come from and what kind of activity is funded in Israel. At the top of all this is the foreign taxpayer-funded support for the Palestinian Authority, which gives money to Palestinian prisoners.
Black writes, “Taxpayers around the world are providing direct financial support for terrorists’ salaries... when one asks who is financing the flames, the stunning answer can be seen with crystal clarity. It is us.”