Who’s paying for Congress to summer in Israel? Liberal foundations that give halls to Princeton and Yale and fund Human Rights Watch

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The center of student life at NYU is a striking building called the Kimmel Center on Washington Square. Martin and Helen Kimmel have given NYU millions. The Kimmels also give tons of money to the Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of African Art, Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Sidwell Friends School, and Human Rights Watch too. 

Yesterday the Washington Post said that 81 congresspeople are going to Israel this summer “courtesy of the AIPAC lobby”– as if we have the bad old right-wing Israel lobby to blame.

But that’s a delusion. It’s people like the Kimmels, the heart and soul of the liberal Jewish establishment. The Kimmels give bigtime to the American Israel Education Foundation, the AIPAC spinoff that funds charities and pays for congresspeople to travel to Israel. The Kimmels gave $3.5 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, or AIEF, over several recent years, according to the Form 990s that their family foundation has provided to the government.

Indeed, my search of 990s shows that the AIEF is getting tons of money from the same people who fund good liberal institutions. I’ve looked at about a third of more than 300 federal filings of charitable contributions to the AIEF in recent years; and the pattern is clear–many people who give to liberal causes like abortion right also pay for Israel junkets.

The Abby and Mitch Leigh Foundation gave the Abby and Mitch Leigh Hall to Yale University’s music school. It also gives generously to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which took on the Bush Administration on abortion policy. Well, the Leigh Foundation has given $35,000 to send your congressperson to Israel.

Or the Wilf Foundation. It gave Princeton University a lovely new brick dormitory called Wilf Hall, which is under construction. And meantime the Wilfs have given $150,000 to the AIEF, according to government filings.

Consider the Arlene and Daniel Fisher Foundation– the Fishers love the arts. They give money to the Actor’s Fund, the Roundabout Theater and the Manhattan Theatre Club, where young friends of mine have done workshop productions. But they also gave $175,000 to the American Israel Education Foundation, which is paying for congresspeople to learn how great Israel is.

Or Margaret and Richard Lipmanson Foundation. It gave the liberal group the ACLU $10,000 one year– and the American Israel Education Foundation $30,000.

Or the Long-Island-based Susan and Leonard Feinstein Foundation. It helps liberal causes, education and the arts– Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the American Ballet Theater,  Nassau Coalition Against Domestic Violence, NYU School of Medicine. But the Feinstein Foundation gave $450,000 to the American Israel Education Foundation over eight years.

Yes, the American Israel Education Foundation gets hundreds of thousands, millions even, from rightwingers. Sheldon Adelson gives it money, for instance. There are many obviously-conservative Jewish-oriented foundations in the lists of AIEF givers. Susan Wexner’s foundation  funds AIEF and also the David Project and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

And Haim Saban, the “ardent Zionist” toymaker, gave $8 million to the American Israel Education Foundation over two years and more than $6 million to the Friends of the IDF (Israeli army).

Saban was also giving millions to Bill Clinton’s Presidential Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

And that’s the point. When you comb through the lists of people who are paying for 1 out of 5 Congresspeople to spend their recess in Israel this summer, many of them are the heart and soul of the liberal Jewish establishment. And apart from the political corruption question– why is a Congresswoman in Israel not her home district this August as the economy disintegrates?– these donor lists speak to a larger cultural issue: the inability of the liberal establishment to address the Israel/Palestine issue in a liberal fashion.

When Princeton, and Yale, and NYU, and Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Ballet Theater, and the Manhattan Theatre Club and the ACLU are getting huge gifts from these foundations, do you think they don’t know which side their bread is buttered on?

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