Blocking Mideast Peace
Bingo Tycoon Subsidizes Extremism in Israel
by Margot Patterson
Originally published 18 October 2002
in National Catholic Reporter


An impoverished small town in Southern California would seem an improbable venue for funding settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine, but physician and financier Irving Moskowitz has by many accounts funneled millions of dollars into settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem from the proceeds of a charitable bingo operation in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.

In 1988 Moskowitz bought a faltering bingo parlor in the ramshackle town of Hawaiian Gardens, a largely Latino community of approximately 15,000 that in 1990 had an average per capita income of $8,500. California state law demands that bingo be run on a not-for-profit basis, and Moskowitz established the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation to administer the bingo operation. Open 363 days a year, the bingo parlor is staffed by volunteers, many of them reported to be undocumented workers, often working six or seven days a week for tips. In recent years, the foundation has raked in between $30 million and $40 million in revenues. So successful has the bingo parlor become that many charities offering bingo in neighboring communities have been unable to compete and have closed their doors.

Using revenue from the bingo operation as well as in some cases his own private funds, Moskowitz has won a reputation both in this country and in Israel for funding extremist settlers on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. In addition to aiding Jewish settlers in Hebron, Moskowitz helped finance the controversial restoration of an ancient tunnel that leads from Jerusalems Western Wall Plaza to the Muslim quarter of the Old City. The opening of the tunnel in 1996 sparked Palestinian fears for the security of the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem and led to riots in which 70 people were killed.

Beryl Weiner, Moskowitzs attorney in Los Angeles, denied that the Moskowitz foundation gives money to settlements. Weiner said the foundation gives to Jewish charities and secular causes. Dr. Moskowitz has purchased with his personal money a lot of property in East Jerusalem, and hes made these purchases over the last 20 to 25 years, he added.

Increasing Jewish presence

If arguably the Moskowitz foundation does not give directly to settlers, it does give to groups that support them. Tax records and published reports indicate that the Moskowitz Foundation has been a major contributor to the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, donating $5 million over the years to the American arm of an ultra-nationalist group whose goal is to Judaicize the Arab quarter of East Jerusalem and drive out Arab residents living there. Ateret Cohanim -- the name means Crown of the Priest -- agitates for rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple and reinstituting animal sacrifices as in the time of King Solomon. In 1978 it opened a militant yeshiva in the heart of the Muslim quarter of the Old City to train students to become priests for the as-yet unbuilt temple. Jews believe the ruins of the old temple lie underneath the Dome of the Rock, Islams third-holiest site, and its widely assumed that construction of a new temple on the spot Jews call the Temple Mount would almost inevitably involve the destruction of the mosque and inflame Muslims around the world.

Moskowitz recently built a Jewish neighborhood of more than a hundred apartments in the heart of Ras el Amud, an Arab neighborhood of 11,000 in East Jerusalem, and is building more units in Abu-Dis, an Arab village outside Jerusalem that has been discussed as a possible capital for a future Palestinian state.

Geoffrey Aronson, director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, said Moskowitz prides himself on his role in increasing the Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem. Hes donated millions of dollars to buy and build properties in some of the hottest spots in East Jerusalem and the Old City, Aronson said.

From scrutinizing the 990 tax forms that all foundations are required to file, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, coordinator of the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem, calculates that the Moskowitz Foundation has given fundamentalist settlers somewhere between $70 million and $80 million dollars. Thats money we can track on the 990s. Then there is stuff that he has given under his personal name, said Beliak.

The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem is an alliance of Jewish activists and Latino residents of Hawaiian Gardens who charge that Moskowitz has exploited the town of Hawaiian Gardens and funneled bingo proceeds meant for charity to Israel to disrupt the peace process there. The coalition is pressing for passage of a state law that would place bingo operations under the auspices of the states gaming commission and is recommending that the commission deny Moskowitzs application for a permanent license for the gambling casino he built next to the bingo parlor. The coalition supports a class action suit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund that charges that the Moskowitz bingo operation withheld wages to employees fraudulently described as volunteers.

Beliak is one of many voices charging that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is being funded by monies from here in the United States, not only in the form of extensive U.S. military and economic aid that allows Israel to put its resources into settlements built in violation of U.N. resolutions, but by allowing private individuals to circumvent its rules regarding charitable giving.

Settlements are blatantly political. These are people who are breaking international law, breaking American policy, breaking American law when they support settlements. The fact that the American polity has not recognized that is part of the double standard. How is it that you close up Muslim charities, one right after the other, without any due process when Moskowitzs foundations are allowed to run unchallenged? asked Beliak.

The U.S. government has aided and abetted the settlement movement from the get-go, added Beliak. All the time it is verbally saying its a bad idea, the government has done nothing to stop it and has always backed off when it is asked to do specific things.

Disrupting the peace process

While Moskowitz has won notoriety for planting settlements in the most sensitive and provocative spots in East Jerusalem, this is no great achievement, according to Lewis Roth, president of Americans for Peace Now. The American Zionist organization partners with Peace Now, an Israeli grassroots movement established in 1978 by 300 reserve soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces that advocates a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anything that disrupts the status quo in Jerusalem is going to set off fireworks, and a lot of the efforts hes backed over the years have been Jerusalem-focused, Roth said. The issue is not just Muslim-Jewish relations, Roth explained. The large number of Christian churches in the Old City of Jerusalem makes changes there a touchy issue for Christians as well.

Anything that pertains to East Jerusalem and particularly the Old City and the Temple Mount is very sensitive, Roth said.

Danny Seidemann, a Jerusalem lawyer who has opposed settlers in court, told NCR that the settlement movement in East Jerusalem would not have anything approaching its current achievement without the active assistance of Moskowitz. Even though his activities are limited geographically and in terms of members, they are qualitatively of a highly inflammatory potential, he said.

About 1,600 Jewish settlers live in East Jerusalem. Asked if it would be fair to describe them as extremists, Seidemann said that while a mix of individuals are involved, they are clearly in favor of a Jewish Jerusalem as opposed to a binational one. There are those involved who have clear Messianic aspirations on the Temple Mount and they are characterized by a strong hostility to any peace process with the Palestinians. If you take those three elements of Jewish hegemony in Jerusalem, if thats not extreme, I dont know what is, Seidemann said.

Beliak said Moskowitz, an opponent of the Oslo Accords, is working to foreclose any meaningful peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. By alienating the land in and around Jerusalem and other places on the West Bank, essentially hes creating a sense of panic among the Palestinians. Soon there will be nothing left to negotiate over.

If by a systematic process you force Arabs out of their homes in East Jerusalem and in the villages surrounding Jerusalem, what you are doing is essentially ethnic cleansing by means of creating the kinds of conditions where people cant live, Beliak said. If an Arab moves out of East Jerusalem for a certain period of time, they lose their residence permit. If they can never get a permit to build a house because the city will not give them any permits, they have constant pressure to sell their land. They have a complete wall of city officials and government officials and now private individuals working to push them off the land.

The demography of Jerusalem

The American Committee on Jerusalem is an Arab-American organization founded to preserve the interests of both Jews and Palestinians living in Jerusalem. The committee notes that since 1967, 80 percent of Jewish residents settling in the city have chosen to reside in newly built settlements constructed on confiscated Palestinian land. By encouraging Jewish-Israeli building and discouraging Palestinian construction, Israel has been successful in altering the demographic balance in its favor, a 2001 report by the American Committee on Jerusalem concluded.

Beliak said not only ideology but personal profit drives Moskowitzs land developments in Israel, which he claimed were frequently gained through subterfuge, government collusion or bribery. Whatever Zionism stands for, Zionism cannot be the result of the theft of land, which is what Moskowitz is about, Beliak said. As far as I know, the command Thou shalt not steal has not been repealed.

Moskowitzs activities in Hawaiian Gardens and Israels occupied territories have received considerable press over the years, as has his friendship with Israeli Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He has been written about in the Los Angeles Times , New Yorks Jewish Week ,Mother Jones ,the Jerusalem Post ,New Times Los Angeles , the Israeli newspapers Haaretz ,Yediot Aharonot and others.

A report by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee of the California Legislature cited a series of questionable practices the Moskowitz Foundation perpetrated in its bingo operation in California, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis protested the Moskowitz Foundations documented methods of political manipulation and labor exploitation perpetrated against the impoverished community of Hawaiian Gardens, utilizing ill-gained profits from gambling for the apparent purpose of funding activities that cause agitation and threaten peace in the holy city of Jerusalem.

Still, Moskowitzs funding of extremist Jewish causes continues, as does his ability to deduct this from his taxes as charitable contributions.

The Ashcroft people are more interested in violations by Muslims than in violations by Jews, and this prominent American Jew is protected by the prime minister of Israel, observed Beliak. America does not have yet a desire to be an honest broker between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Moskowitzs lawyer said that the Moskowitz foundation had been audited by the government each of the last five years and found in full compliance with federal and state laws.

National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 2002

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