By Asaf Shalev
Charitable foundations with ties to Jewish federations and Jewish families feature prominently in a new report about the flow of tax-deductible donations to organizations that a leading Muslim civil rights lobby has identified as “anti-Muslim groups.”
Titled “Islamophobia in the Mainstream,” the report was published Tuesday by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group and political lobby that is harshly critical of Israel.
It follows a different report from 2019 that identified some 1,100 groups CAIR identified as funding anti-Muslim activity. In the new report, CAIR used publicly available IRS data to analyze the top 50 charitable foundations in the 2019 report.
Among the foundations examined in the new report, 35 were found responsible for roughly $106 million in payments from 2017 to 2019 to 26 groups deemed harmful to Muslims. The figure is lower than in previous years but still indicates that funding for Islamophobia is alarmingly mainstream, according to CAIR.
At least five funders on CAIR’s list are explicitly Jewish and direct their funds according to the wishes of their donors. Several others are private family foundations also known for supporting Jewish and Israel causes.
The five are donor-advised funds affiliated with Jewish federations in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area — the biggest Jewish communities in the United States.
Donor-advised funds collect donations from individuals and disperse money according to the recommendations of donors, who get an immediate tax write-off and remain anonymous. Because of the way they are structured, donor-advised funds often distribute money to groups with wide-ranging values and ideologies, a dynamic that can be challenging for the organization managing the fund. For example, the San Francisco federation announced last year that it would monitor its giving more closely after sending funds to a group that was accused of backing the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Meanwhile, the Adelson Family Foundation, established by the late casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, made the list along with the Irving I Moskowitz Foundation, the Helen Diller Family Foundation and other entities with a focus on the U.S. Jewish community and Israel.
The Jewish groups appear alongside Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, which topped the list, and donor-advised funds run by major Wall Street firms such as Fidelity and Schwab.
The prevalence of Jewish-linked funders appears connected to CAIR’s view that certain hawkish and right-wing groups with a pro-Israel agenda promote Islamophobia.
One group cited in the report is the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. CAMERA ran afoul of CAIR by reportedly accusing several Muslim American organizations of being front groups for terrorists.
JTA reached out to the Jewish federations, CAMERA and the Adelson Family Foundation for comment.
CAMERA drew attention to CAIR’s history, which included ties with groups connected to Hamas before the United States designated Hamas a terrorist group. Additionally, federal prosecutors divulged in 2007 — inappropriately, multiple judges later ruled — that the group was on a list of hundreds of “co-conspirators” in a Texas terrorism case. Being an unindicted co-conspirator does not necessarily suggest criminal activity or even knowledge of criminal activity.
“CAIR’s assertions are gross falsehoods seeking to deflect from CAMERA’s factual commentary about CAIR’s extremist activity, including its history as an unindicted co-conspirator in one of the largest terrorism-financing cases in U.S. history,” Sean Durns, CAMERA’s senior analyst, said in an email.
“The FBI itself has suspended ties with CAIR which had no fewer than five former lay leaders or staffers arrested, convicted and/or deported on terrorism-related charges,” Durns said, referring to events in the 1990s and in the 2000s. “In an effort to intimidate, CAIR seems to want to smear any group that simply relays well-known facts about them.”
In an email, Rabbi Noah Farkas, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, did not directly address CAIR’s claims. “The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has always built relationships and partnerships with organizations that reflect the fabric and diversity of the Los Angeles region,” he said. “We believe that the preservation and security of the Jewish community of Los Angeles is predicated on deep connections with people from all backgrounds. It is part of our core value system to stand against all forms of hatred.”
The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella body for federations, said the system as a whole was dedicated to battling prejudice. “The Jewish community knows better than anybody the importance of fighting hate wherever it may be, and Federations work tirelessly to stamp out hatred and build strong friendship with other communities,” JFNA said in response to a JTA query.
Eric Fingerhut, the JFNA CEO, in a separate email said the report distorts the role of Jewish federations.
“This report is completely illegitimate and casts absurd and false accusations at Jewish Federations, whose sole purpose is to build up and secure the Jewish community,” he said. “The Jewish community knows better than anybody the importance of fighting hate wherever it may be. Federations work tirelessly to stamp out hatred and build strong friendship with other communities.”
Other groups cited in the report include the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which engages in “anti-Muslim media lobbying and misinformation,” and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, led by activist Pamela Geller and known for “racist public ad campaigns,” according to CAIR. Those groups have long been widely criticized for peddling Islamophobia, including by the Anti-Defamation League.
CAIR itself has been accused of allowing its advocacy to veer into the realm of bigotry, with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accusing a CAIR leader of “textbook antisemitic conspiracy-laden garbage” in December. Zahra Billoo, director of CAIR’s San Francisco office had said in a speech that pro-Palestinian activists should oppose “polite Zionists” just as they would right-wing extremists, and she named synagogues and other mainstream Jewish organizations as examples. The speech earned widespread rebuke from Jewish leaders like Greenblatt.
The flow of funding in the nonprofit world has come under intense scrutiny in recent years with accusations like CAIR’s that tax-deductible donations are boosting hate groups and extremists.
Concern over the issue has reached a crescendo following the Washington, D.C. rally on Jan. 6, 2021, that turned into an attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the recent presidential election. Since the rally, journalists, watchdog groups and lawmakers have been investigating the financing behind the event.
In a press release announcing the report, CAIR echoed calls to beef up controls on where donations can go.
“Today, more than ever, the philanthropic community must establish clear policies to prevent funds from going to hate groups and implement educational initiatives for staff and board members to help them understand the extent of anti-Muslim bigotry,” CAIR’s national research and advocacy coordinator Huzaifa Shahbaz said in a statement.