Originally published 18 October 2002
in National Catholic Reporter
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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