Originally published 12 November 1999
in The Jewish Week
Moskowitz faces inquiry on casino expected to fund controversial Jerusalem land buys.
by a grass-roots alliance of local Jews, Latinos, labor unions and clergy,
Californias state legislature is investigating the business dealings of Dr.
Irving Moskowitz, a controversial sponsor of Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods
of east Jerusalem.
The probe, by the legislatures Joint Audit Committee,
will look into Moskowitzs drive to start up a local casino seen by Jewish
critics as a potential source of new revenues for his Jerusalem efforts.
The casinos financing, which includes government redevelopment funds, is
being probed under the committees broad mandate to investigate reports of
government corruption and waste.
The provisionally operating casino,
for which Moskowitz is now seeking a permanent license, is located in Hawaiian
Gardens, a tiny, low-income Latino enclave outside Long Beach.
bingo club Moskowitz now runs there has already channeled millions in tax-exempt
funds to Orthodox settler groups in Jerusalem. The groups, such as Ateret
Cohanim, are devoted to buying up properties in the citys Arab sectors, evicting
the Arab residents and moving in Jews. These projects have sparked bitter
protests and occasional riots by Palestinians. The bingo clubs revenues also
fund American groups critical of current Middle East peace efforts, such
as the Zionist Organization of America and the Washington-based Center for
Moskowitz, who lives in Miami, is also funding a
Jewish housing development in the Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amud from his
own pocket. Both Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu have opposed the project, on which construction is nevertheless
As a charitable enterprise, the bingo clubs earnings
about $30 million per year, gross must be given only to groups that, like
Ateret or ZOA, claim to be engaged in religious, educational or other charitable
activities. But funds from the for-profit casino, which is expected to gross
$100 million, can be used by Moskowitz, as he pleases.
Moskowitzs activities in Jerusalem cheered news of the probe, though its
focus on Moskowitzs California activities is unrelated to their cause.
Moskowitz is undoubtedly the largest bankroller of settler efforts in Jerusalem
today, said Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney who has fought many settler
projects in court. So if monies from questionable sources in Hawaiian Gardens
are being put to disreputable use here, that should be attacked from both
Groups supported by Moskowitz, however, dismissed such concerns as pious hypocrisy.
know of no left-wing organization that is concerned with the source of money
contributed to it not one, said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization
of America. What is the source of the money Peace Now gets? Id like to know.
powerful Joint Legislative Audit Committee is strictly focusing on the casinos
legality under California law. But sources close to the investigation say
Moskowitzs activities in Hawaiian Gardens were first brought to its attention
by the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem, an unusual
coalition of local Jewish activists, Hawaiian Gardens residents and others
who decry his role in both cities.
Alluding to documents brought to
state probers by the coalition, a source close to the investigation said,
We understand there was something like $20 million in city redevelopment
money that went into this gambling operation. If we were to confirm that
was so, that would be a violation [of California law].
Los Angeles-based attorney, Beryl Weiner, failed to return a phone call seeking
comment. But if it finds a violation, the committee can direct the state
auditor to probe Moskowitzs casino. Any finding that Moskowitz violated public
funding restrictions could force him to return the sums involved.
activists hope to use any such finding for their larger goal: convincing
the state attorney general to deny Moskowitz a permanent casino license.
The law grants the attorney general wide discretion to deny such licenses
if he finds an applicant unsuitable for any reason.
Rabbi Haim Dov
Beliak, coordinator of the Coalition for Justice, claims his group has a
mailing list of about 800 and a hard core of about 40 or 50 clergy from various
denominations who actively back it. One of its major funders is the Shefa
Fund, which describes itself as devoted to supporting Jewish involvement
in economic and social justice and Middle East peace work in North America.
activities in Hawaiian Gardens, a crime-ridden town beset with high poverty
rates, have long generated controversy. But no government agency to date
has charged any of his enterprises there with illegality.
bingo club, the largest in the state, was granted a license in 1988 by city
officials who hoped its earnings would address local needs. But in most years,
the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, which operates the club, has given all
but a small percentage of its disbursements to his Jewish and Israel-related
Critics charge that Moskowitz wields control of the tax-exempt
bingo money he does give to Hawaiian Gardens together with his considerable
personal fortune to politically control the tiny town. In some years, Moskowitz
Foundation donations to the city, though a small portion of its disbursements,
funded more than half the municipal budget. Moskowitz has several times cut
off this flow when displeased with city policies.
In 1993, Moskowitz
persuaded city officials to acquire the new casino site for him by having
the municipal redevelopment agency buy it for $5.5 million and selling it
to him at half that price. Moskowitz told officials then that he planned
to build a large shopping center there. But Hawaiian Gardens former Mayor
Lupe Cabrera, told The Jewish Week, That was a pretext. [We] always knew
it was going to be a casino, even though no one would admit it.
1995, Moskowitz spent nearly $600,000 of his personal money to fight off
opponents of the casino and win a state-required referendum on it. That amounted
to about $200 per vote in the tiny town. Moskowitz later funded successful
recall campaigns against city council members who opposed him on the casino.
Orthodox rabbis in our group find this most painful, because they do believe
that Zionism should conduct itself in an upstanding way, said Rabbi Beliak,
of the Coalition for Justice. Moskowitz has blackened Zionism in their eyes.
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