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Why is Congress acting against the US constitution?

January 30, 2014 at 2:53 am

In the days following the official resumption of US-led “peace talks” between Israel and Palestine, the Israeli government decided to expand its list of illegal settlements eligible for government subsidies and approved a plan to build more than 1,000 new settler homes in the Occupied Territories. Meanwhile the US Congress was busy introducing a new bill to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Although Congress already passed a similar bill called the Jerusalem Embassy Act back in 1995 that required the US to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem, the previous bill allowed the White House to indefinitely delay its implementation. Not so with the proposed “Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel Act.”

But as The Christian Science Monitor reports, last month a federal appeals court decided that Congress had overstepped its constitutional powers when it passed a 2002 law requiring US consular officials to list “Israel” as the place of birth of American children born in Jerusalem. In the opinion the presiding judge wrote, “Congress plainly intended to force the State Department to deviate from its decades-long position of neutrality on what nation or government, if any, is sovereign over Jerusalem.” The court’s decision to uphold the exclusive power of the executive branch to conduct diplomacy and recognize foreign nations means that the legality of this latest act is also highly questionable.

So if the 1995, 2002 and 2013 acts are all unconstitutional, why are members of Congress repeatedly acting against a constitution they otherwise profess such sacred allegiance to? Here enters the Israel Lobby. While the Lobby’s best-known organization is the powerful America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the real-world reach of the Lobby is far wider, as following one direction of the bill’s money trail shows.

Among the new bill’s bipartisan co-sponsors is Brad Sherman, a US Representative from California and a member of the Democratic Party who received a financial donation from the Irving Moskowitz Foundation during his 2012 re-election campaign.

The Irving Moskowitz Foundation declares that it is “committed to making a difference in people’s life regardless of race, religion, or politics,” even though its Jewish American founder Irving Moskowitz once told The Washington Post that his desire is to “do everything I possibly can to help reclaim Jerusalem for the Jewish people.” The foundation’s web site details some of the charitable projects that it financially supports, focusing mainly on small community projects in Hawaiian Gardens, a deprived city in the state of California, as well as tornado relief efforts in the state of Oklahoma.

However according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the foundation also made donations of around $50,000 to political candidates and parties in 2012, and unlike Sherman they are mostly Republican. Indeed between 2006-2012 only seven per cent of the foundation’s political contributions went to Democrats. Furthermore, in 2012 the foundation made a $1 million donation to American Crossroads, a Super Political Action Committee (PAC) co-founded by Karl Rove that raises funds for the Republican Party. By law Super PACs are allowed to receive anonymous donations and spend unlimited funds on political candidates and parties, even during elections.

Still, although his recent political donations are indeed generous, Moskowitz’s most favored aid recipients by far are illegal Israeli settlers.

The Huffington Post reports that as far back as 1969, Moscowitz, a retired physician, started buying up hospitals in the US only to sell them for a profit that he then spent on land purchases in Jerusalem as well as donations to settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. But it was not until he launched a bingo operation in 1988 that his “philanthropy” reached new levels. All bingo outfits in the state of California must be operated by charities. Located in the same impoverished Hawaiian Gardens where his charity already had a history of giving, the cash-strapped city allowed him to retain 99 percent of the bingo operation’s revenue.

And the revenue has certainly been vast. According to Mother Jones, by 2000 the club was earning up to $50 million a year. After expenses it was donating as much as $17 million per year, with the majority of this money, reportedly around two thirds, being spent on Judaizing Palestine, especially Occupied East Jerusalem. The political blog Think Progress reports that Moskowitz’s foundations have given “huge sums to developments there,” including the purchase and demolition of the historic Shepherd Hotel to build housing for settlers. Many millions have also been directed to the group Ateret Cohanim, which focuses mainly on purchasing Arab property in East Jerusalem.

Sherman’s ardent pro-Zionism explains why he, a Democrat, is also receiving funds from Moskowitz’s Republican friendly foundation. Last year Sherman spearheaded an international campaign against the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood recognition by the UN General Assembly, and he even launched a campaign for the US government to prosecute American activists onboard the 2010 Freedom Flotilla as terrorists because they delivered humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, conflating the civilian population with Hamas by citing “The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.”

On the other hand, Moskowitz’s support of extremist settlers is well documented. Think Progress reports that “Moskowitz’s and his wife’s foundations have donated more than $300,000 to the Hebron Fund,” a New York based charity that supports Israeli settlements. According to the news website Salon, “tax documents show that the Hebron Fund sends money directly to its Israeli sister organization whose director and founding officers include two men convicted by the Israeli government for their roles in deadly attacks on Palestinians carried out by the Jewish Underground in the 1980s.” This includes Rabbi Dov Lior, who according to author Sefi Rachlevsky was responsible for planning terror attacks during the heyday of the Underground. Rachlevsky argues in Haaretz that Menachem Livni, a convicted killer and former head of the Underground, testified that Lior not only preached and delivered religious rulings about the need to murder Arabs, but was also involved in planning the details of particular terrorist acts, including a failed attempt to blow up six buses with the object of killing hundreds.

Moskowitz has also supported Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who was arrested in 2010 by Israeli security forces for inciting violence after authoring a book that justifies the killing of non-Jews. Shapira claimed that killing Palestinian babies was necessary because it would be too dangerous “if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents.”

So Moskowitz and his foundations are arguably supporting not only the ongoing Judaization of the Occupied Territories, but also violence against Palestinians.

According to a report published by Settlements in Palestine, a research and advocacy group, the Hebron Fund is only one of many US organizations that raised $274 million in tax-exempt donations for Israel’s West Bank settlements between 2002-2009. But even though these organizations are violating both international law and US foreign policy by funding illegal settlements, according to Salon the US Treasury actually “gives tax breaks to groups whose sole purpose is to raise funds for the settlements.”

And on top of that, all the millions Moskowitz spends from the bingo operation are also tax exempt, which seems even more egregious considering that the co-sponsors of the new bill on Jerusalem are arguing that it should be passed because moving the embassy will save the government money. But when you actually follow the money, it just shows that any real efforts for peace in the Middle East will never be brokered by the US.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.