Originally published 09 May 1996
in Los Angeles Times
Irving Moskowitz Has Sent Millions From Hawaiian Gardens Club To Groups Trying
To Thwart Mideast Peace By Buying Land In Contested Areas. His Activities
Raise Controversy At Home And Abroad.
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
the article excerpted here was published over six years ago, it remains the
most comprehensive account of gambling mogul Irving Moskowitz’s activities
in Hawaiian Gardens. We have interspersed the excerpts with updated information
in italic typeface.
The money trickles in, $1 at a time,
at a smoky bingo hall in Los Angeles County's tiniest city, the inaptly named
It winds up, by the millions, in one of the world's
most sensitive hot spots—the disputed territories within Israel—supporting
organizations dedicated to keeping the biblical lands under Jewish control.
the middle is Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz. The soft-spoken 67-year-old physician
made his fortune building hospitals around Southern California, then discovered
the new source of riches—the strip mall bingo hall—that helped him become
a major player in tinderbox politics halfway around the world.
Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation has dispersed more than $ 18 million in bingo
profits to various causes in the 1990s, $ 6 million last year alone.
of the money supports charities in Hawaiian Gardens that distribute everything
from free groceries to smoke alarms. But records show that far more of the
millions goes to groups backing the agenda of the Israeli right wing: by
buying up property in contested areas such as Jerusalem and campaigning to
defeat peace plans under which Israel would surrender land to its Arab neighbors.
As of 1997, the last year for which information is available, the total of
grants made from bingo funds was $45,384,897. In 1996 the Moskowitz Foundation
gave out grants from the bingo operation which totaled $9,654,430; in 1997,
the foundation dispersed $17,033,953, the lion’s share to anti-peace causes
in Israel and the US. (There are additional details on Moskowitz Foundation
spending at the end of this article.) Smoking is no longer permitted in the
The fate of Israel is an emotional subject
for many American Jews. But activists on both sides of the fierce peace debate
in Israel say no one pours as much money into the cause as Moskowitz.
Orthodox Jew who lost 120 relatives in the Holocaust, he has condemned the
peace accords between Israel and its Arab neighbors as a "slide toward concessions,
surrender and Israeli suicide." So he shrugs and says he is merely doing
the "natural thing for a Jew," trying to "save our nation."
demeanor belies a tough, competitive nature that has enabled him to master
one contentious world after another: hospital economics, small-town California
politics and the secretive land deals of the Middle East.
has found himself embroiled in controversy both in the California city where
he accumulates the bingo dollars and in the nation that is his passion.
in Hawaiian Gardens now question how the doctor who once delivered their
babies—but moved to Florida 16 years ago—has continued to use his influence
in the community.
Although no one accuses Moskowitz of condoning [the
violence in Israel and, most notably the 1994 assassination of Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin] ("a terrible thing," he calls it), backers of peace talks
with the Palestinians complain that he and others engage in "deliberate provocations"
by buying property in "the most holy place on Earth."
"He is a man
who lives far away with a big box of matches, facing a huge keg of gunpowder
which is Jerusalem," said Ornan Yekutieli, a left-wing member of that city's
"He sits and he throws matches," Yekutieli said. "And one of the matches will succeed and make a gigantic explosion."
many others agree with Moskowitz that it is a recipe for disaster to trade
land for peace with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. To them, Moskowitz
is "a great hero." And even critics grudgingly admire how he backs up his
beliefs. "He has the money," said Yekutieli, "and he uses it."
Relatives Killed by Nazis
many in America, Moskowitz grew up knowing "the precariousness of Jewish
existence," says a short biography handed out at a banquet where he was honored.
Having lost so many relatives to the Nazis, he figured that "but for an accident
which brought my parents from Poland to the United States, my brothers, sisters
and I would have also been victims."
He was born in Manhattan, the
ninth son in a family of 12 children. With the Depression brewing, the clan
took off for Milwaukee, where a grandfather was eking out a living peddling
The heavily German city was a difficult place for a young Jew
during World War II. An older brother, a mailman, found himself delivering
anti-Semitic newsletters. And Moskowitz still has the tattered baseball glove
he says he won betting a neighbor that appeasement would not keep the Nazis
from overrunning Europe.
He is not one for self-analysis. Asked what
made him so driven, he simply suggests he was always that way, recalling
racing past a cute girl as a youth so "she would be proud of me and like
That speed later won him headlines as a baseball outfielder,
but he decided that medicine was a more promising way to escape poverty.
portrays other turning points in his life as accidents: A radio report on
California weather, during a Milwaukee winter, led him to take a hospital
internship in Long Beach after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin
medical school, at age 23, in 1952. A patient's remark about "a half-built
hospital you gotta come see" led him to buy his first hospital within a decade
for a $ 75,000 down payment.
What was no accident was how his career
quickly became intertwined with his interest in Israel. As soon as he leased
out the 67-bed hospital in Buena Park, he and his wife, Cherna, made their
first trip to the Jewish homeland.
In 1960, he was part of a Los Angeles
delegation that greeted Menachem Begin, who went on to become Israeli prime
minister. And years later, when Iraqi Scud missiles terrorized Israel during
the 1991 Gulf War, he spearheaded Operation Torah Shield, in which a jumbo
jet of American students flew to Israel to offer moral support.
could be more natural for a person with my upbringing," he asked, than "to
want to help his people in Israel who are being surrounded by people that
want to destroy the country?"
After Israel captured East Jerusalem,
many officials insisted that the only way to keep peace there was to preserve
the city as a mosaic of separate communities. But some religious Jews, whose
prayers for centuries have included the plaintive pledge "Next year in Jerusalem,"
defied that approach by creating Jewish enclaves in the Arab quarter, hoping
to make redivision impossible.
While some American Jews became avid
settlers, Moskowitz had more than his body to offer. He said he used profits
from his first "big win" in business—the sale of four hospitals to the National
Medical Enterprises chain—to buy a stone building in Jerusalem for Beit Orot
Yeshiva, an ultranationalist education center. And he sold a convalescent
home in 1985 to buy another prime building, the Shepherd Hotel, for more
than $ 1 million.
Arabs who own such properties risk their lives selling
to Jews. But they could be swayed by "prices well above the market," Moskowitz
said, although they had to negotiate through third and fourth parties. He
especially relished getting the hotel, just outside the walls of the Old
City, for it had been used by the Mufti of Jerusalem, the Muslim spiritual
leader. During the Palestinian intifada, the uprising against Israeli occupation,
Moskowitz leased it to the Israeli border police who were working "to stop
the Arab terrorists," he said.
Still, such purchases by private individuals
were of secondary significance until 1992, when the current Labor Party government
came to office and began talks with the Palestinians. It was disclosed then
that the previous Likud administration, which was much more hard-line, had
funneled tens of millions of shekels to buy buildings in contested areas.
Labor officials froze such funding, private money became the sole way to
continue the acquisitions. Although the efforts drew backing from wealthy
Jews, such as Canadian corporate raider Marc Belzberg, Moskowitz became "the
driving force," according to Daniel Seidman, an attorney for the dovish Peace
Now movement, which opposes the "Jewish beachheads" as dangerous provocations.
Most notable among Moskowitz’s post 1992 "investments" was a tunnel alongside
the Temple Mount, which, when it was opened a few months after this article
appeared, sparked riots that left at least 70 dead.
Indeed, the turn
of events in Israel came as Moskowitz's foundation overflowed with funds
from a source even the millionaire doctor found "unbelievable."
the time he sold his first four hospitals in 1969, he was a power in the
field—ready to open five more during a frenzy of deal-making. One, in Paramount,
prompted a bitter legal fight. But another of the new facilities proved to
be one of those turning points in his life—for it was in the tiny city next
to Long Beach.
Hawaiian Gardens got its name from the thatched roof
"punch" stand of a 1920s bootlegger. Though the name suggests a breezy paradise,
it became a prototype of California sprawl. Today, 14,000 residents are crammed
into rows of stucco bungalows—along with a strip of pawnshops and burrito
stands—in 0.9 of a square mile off the 605 Freeway.
The city has long
fought an inferiority complex. Whereas neighboring Cerritos had dairy land
that later provided space for upscale subdivisions, Hawaiian Gardens got
"housing that was built for the cow milkers," said former Councilman Don
Schultze. So when Moskowitz built his hospital there, the city celebrated
Irving Moskowitz Day in 1972.
Moskowitz treated area residents until
1980, when he leased his remaining hospitals to the Charter chain and moved
to a spacious waterfront home in Miami Beach.
There he received a
call in 1988 about a new opportunity. Hawaiian Gardens faced a crisis: Its
charity bingo hall was closing after the operator faced criminal charges
in Orange County.
On Sept. 13, 1988, the Hawaiian Gardens City Council
named the Irving I.Moskowitz Foundation to take over the bingo games. Declared
[City Councilwoman Kathleen] Navejas: "Whatever Moskowitz does turns to gold."
The Games Add Up
around the cavernous room call it "The Fastest Game in Town." Through the
haze of cigarette smoke, players peel off single after single for $ 1 bingo
cards and pull tabs. The buy-in is small and so are the prizes, $ 250 per
game, because of state limits that cover all but Indian bingo halls. The
law does not say how many games you can play, however, so the caller shouts
out a new number every four seconds. A game is over in minutes and a new
one starts, for up to 10 hours.
By 1991, The Bingo Club was taking in $ 33 million a year, according to foundation tax returns.
was hardly all profit: $ 24 million in prizes were given out, along with
the city's 1% fee and salaries for a large security force. But even with
such costs, the bingo quickly transformed the Moskowitz Foundation into a
Records show that the foundation gave away $ 57,000 in
1987, the last year before bingo. By 1991, it was able to dole out $ 1.5
million. The figure rose to $ 4.3 million by 1994--the last year for which
detailed accounting was filed—and $ 6 million in 1995, according to the foundation's
Some of the money stayed in Hawaiian Gardens, with $ 30,000
a month going to the food bank and other funds supporting an anti-gang program
and the like. But the giving more often reflected Moskowitz's interest in
Israel. "It's obvious," he said, "that it's allowed me to be more active."
The foundation’s revenues continued to grow (as did its accumulated wealth).
In 1996, it gave out $9.7 million and in 1997 it gave out $17 million. After
he achieved enough local political control to get his poker casino approved
(and lavishly funded by the city’s redevelopment agency), Moskowitz slowed,
then stopped the flow of bingo funds to Hawaiian Gardens. His cutbacks forced
the shutdown of the local police force, the anti-gang program and the food
bank after those organizations opposed his actions. Moskowitz subsequently
set up a substitute "loyalist" foodbank. But, from November 1998 to the present,
he has given the city only a token $35,000 to get the cracked, drained community
swimming pool—a visible reproach of bingo operator’s neglect of the city
which granted him a monopoly—back in operation.
says the foundation is "not buying the land," merely supporting groups "for
humanitarian purposes, for scholarships...for students studying to be rabbis."
beneficiaries, however, are American "pass through" organizations designed
to help Israeli counterparts, including groups involved in the property purchases
and settlements in contested areas.
Foundation records show that the
largest single amount in 1994, $ 1.03 million, went to American Friends of
Everest, which Moskowitz set up "to acquire an important religious building
in the holy city."
And the leading recipient through 1994, getting
$ 2.35 million, was American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, which supports a
yeshiva in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. Members believe they have a God-given
mission to buy property and protect Temple Mount, revered as the site where
Abraham offered to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and the site of the First and
Second Jewish temples, the latter destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
[UPDATE] Subsequent years’ data on donations to these two and other militant groups appears at the end of this story.
Cohanim members believe that the rebuilding of the temple, and the coming
of the messiah, are imminent. But that would mean tearing down the third-holiest
site in the Islamic world, the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, built
over the temple ruins.
"Jerusalem is…almost too delicate to be spoken about in rational terms," said Peace Now's Seidman.
June, Moskowitz visited the yeshiva to donate a Torah scroll in memory of
a student stabbed to death by Arabs. By now, some of his eight children,
two of them rabbis, were raising their own families in Israel. "After 2,000
years of sacrifice for the dream of returning to Jerusalem, we cannot allow
it to be taken away," he said.
His foundation has aided settlements
in other areas, as well, including the sensitive Palestinian town of Hebron
in the West Bank. And, in 1993, it gave $ 100,000 to Bar Ilan University,
which is viewed as mainstream but faced scrutiny after law student Yigal
Amir shot Rabin.
Though Moskowitz had likened Rabin's policies to
the appeasement of the Nazis before World War II, he condemned the assassination
as "not good for peace or the Jewish nation." But he added: "It doesn't change
the fact that the Arabs still commit terror against the Jews."
view, that the Arabs cannot be trusted to make peace, is spread by advocacy
groups in the United States that get major funding from his foundation. Frank
Gaffney, a former Defense Department official who runs one of the groups,
the Center for Security Policy, credits Moskowitz with spotlighting an "alternative
view…not well represented among the establishment Jewish institutions."
such efforts break the long tradition of having a strong, single-voiced "Israel
lobby" in Washington—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
carefully mutes its criticism of the Moskowitz-backed groups, not wanting
to "overplay their influence." A spokesman merely termed "inappropriate"
how they have broken the "consensus that our role is to respect the decisions
of the government of Israel when it comes to security and life-and-death
Others are less polite. "He is a major funder of anti-peace
movements," said Jim Zogby, president of the Arab-American Alliance. "Why
one man devotes his life and fortune to perpetuating violence is a mysterious
"If you asked most people who Moskowitz is they would not
have any idea," Gaffney…[said]. "His influence is a function of his financial
And he soon could have far more funds at his disposal.
Protest by Residents
was a packed crowd, too, in Hawaiian Gardens in February, but not for testimonials.
Dozens of angry residents came to City Hall with signs saying "No More Sweetheart
Deals" and "Investigate Irving Moskowitz."
Hawaiian Gardens was debating
whether he was, in fact, a grandfatherly benefactor…or someone who had used
the community for his own ends.
The issue was poker.
city officials allotted $ 5.5 million in redevelopment funds to buy several
acres, next to the bingo hall, and give the land to a corporation headed
by Moskowitz. He was to repay half the money and develop a Smith's supermarket,
generating $ 250,000 in yearly sales tax for the city.
was controversial because it would level landmark businesses such as the
Plow Boys market, opened 35 years ago to sell area farmers' produce. "We
are little fish," said Dennis Duski, whose garden center also was displaced.
"He owns Hawaiian Gardens and they do whatever he wants."
officials insisted that redevelopment was needed to remove the blight—and
denied whispers that it was a ruse to bring in a lucrative card club. Mayor
Robert Canada swore he would "not vote in any form for a poker casino."
Last year, however, the mayor joined a unanimous vote to hold a poker referendum. It was approved by 57% of city voters.
Although only around 3,000 people were registered to vote in Hawaiian Gardens,
Moskowitz spent $561,000 to influence the election. Most of the money went
straight to local individuals.
The turnaround was part
of a turbulent 1995 in which increased gambling was promoted as vital for
fiscal survival. A new police force, to replace county sheriff's patrols,
was projected to cost $ 500,000 more a year—and the city was broke.
why we need the cards," said City Clerk Dominic Ruggeri, who viewed that
use of the redevelopment land as inevitable. "I had been talking to Dr. Moskowitz
about it for four years."
Now, almost four years after Moskowitz got the city’s approval for his casino,
it is still under construction, operating only a token handful of tables.
Still waiting to start collecting its anticipated poker bonanza, Hawaiian
Gardens is broker than ever.
In addition to the bingo fund
cutoff, Moskowitz’s sweetheart casino deal with the city’s redevelopment
agency has drained that agency, causing it to borrow from the city. The same
sweetheart deal has stuck the agency with responsibility for the lion’s share
of compensation to businesses condemned to make way for the casino. The agency
has no funds to pay the judgments. Moreover, investigations are currently
under way to determine whether the agency’s spending on a gambling operation
was illegal under the Isenberg Law.
Link to the Coalition's Statement of Purpose
Link to the relevant Health & Safety Code (Isenberg Amendment)
Navejas emerged as a leading critic of granting Moskowitz a card club license.
She distributed fliers asking, "Where does the Hawaiian Gardens Bingo Club
Thirty Million Dollars Go?"
"He is a great manipulator," she said.
"He makes you feel like he is a caring individual but they are not in it
to take care of the city."
So—much as in the Middle East—Moskowitz plows on amid angry rhetoric, the final chapters of his legacy still to be written.
Times staff writer Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.
Where the Money Goes
Figures in italics update the Times’ original text
of the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation show how the cause of buying up land
in Israel—particularly in areas coveted by Arabs—is a major beneficiary of
his bingo riches. The totals below are for 1994, the latest year for which
donations have been made public.
* Amount: $ 1,031,060
* Recipient: American Friends of Everest, Miami
Use of funds: The organization, formed by Moskowitz himself, used the money
"to acquire an important religious building in the holy city of Jerusalem
very close to the very holy Western Wall."
[UPDATE] The Foundation
gave the American Friends of Everest $889,960 in 1996, for a grand total
of $2,135,750 between 1993 and 1996.
* Amount: $ 576,000
* Recipient: American Friends of Ateret Cohanim Inc., New York City
* Use of funds: Benefits the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, a militant Jewish school in the heart Jerusalem's Arab quarter.
The foundation gave American Friends of Ateret Cohanim $740,000 in 1995,
$987,500 in 1996, and $670,000 in 1997. Total foundation spending on this
pass-through group for the years 1987 through 1997: $4,700,250.
* Amount: $ 514,000
* Recipient: National Council of Young Israel, New York City
of funds: Benefits organizing body of more than 150 Orthodox synagogues in
the United States and Israel; often critical of Israeli peace proposals.
The Moskowitz Foundation donated to this group $85,000 in 1996, $420,000
in 1997, and gave it a total of $2,197,000 between 1990 and 1997.
* Amount: $ 200,000
* Recipient: American Hechal Shlomo Committee, Brooklyn, N.Y.
* Use of funds: Gives grants for building, maintaining and expanding synagogues in Israel.
* Amount: $ 200,000
* Recipient: Zionist Organization of America, New York City
* Use of funds: Historic group now focuses heavily on lobbying and has emerged as a voice critical of Mideast peace proposals.
Foundation grants to the Zionist Organization of America were $151,000 in
1995, 175,000 in 1997 and 50,000 in 1997. Total grants for the years 1994
through 1997 were $576,000.
[UPDATE] The foundation gave smaller amounts
to many other militant, right-wing groups and significantly smaller amounts
to a smaller number of mainstream charities. Meanwhile, the Foundation has
given organizations in Hawaiian Gardens—the city which gave it a bingo monopoly—only
$8,760,371 of the $45,384,897 total grants it has dispersed since 1987. That’s
only 19 percent—and most of it was dispersed while key decisions on Moskowitz’s
private casino were pending!
In 1997, the Moskowitz Foundation gave
$4,875,000 to what it called a "community medical facility." Actually, the
recipient was the local hospital, since 1969 a private Moskowitz operation,
which the doctor spun off as a non-profit right before his foundation made
the donation. Documents filed with federal authorities to establish the hospital’s
non-profit status show that it will be paying rent of $95,000 a month to
a for-profit company solely controlled by Irving Moskowitz. That $4.8 million
"donation" will cover not quite 52 months’ rent—less than four and one-half
The Moskowitz landlord company that will collect the bingo
funds in the form of hospital rent is called the Cerritos Gardens General
Hospital Committee. It collects around $300,000 rent a year from the bingo
operation and an even larger rental from Dr. Moskowitz’s casino!
Copyright 1996, The Los Angeles Times
For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.