Mondoweiss

‘Apolitical’ arts organization combatting BDS is front for pro-settler group tied to Israeli Foreign Ministry

Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) is an organization that, in its own words, “supports the idea of building bridges between people through art and music.” Since its formation in 2010–11, CCFP has led the fight in the United States against the cultural boycott of Israel, proclaiming that “music and the arts are bridge[s] to peace and they should not be politicized.”

“Music speaks its mind and knows no borders,” says a video on the CCFP home page. “Music is our gift to each other … Don’t let Israel’s detractors politicize art.”

Through this message, CCFP hopes to convince artists that performing in Israel during a boycott does not mean taking a political position.

But CCFP is actually a front for StandWithUs, the notorious right-wing pro-settler organization that works closely with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. And CCFP provides cover for StandWithUs to fight cultural boycott without exposing its own political pro-Israel agenda.

An article in the Jewish Daily Forward, published online Tuesday, hints at the ties between CCFP and StandWithUs and claims that CCFP “partnered with StandWithUs” for tax-exempt purposes while awaiting approval of its own nonprofit registration. However, this explanation is inadequate.

The details presented here demonstrate that CCFP emerged from StandWithUs and is managed by StandWithUs—and the two groups are inextricable. In fact, CCFP and StandWithUs are legally the same thing.

Creative Community for Peace is a registered “fictitious business name” of the Israel Emergency Network, a.k.a. StandWithUs

The official business name of StandWithUs is “Israel Emergency Alliance,” which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered in California. Businesses operating in California are required to register all the names in which they are doing business—known as “fictitious business names,” or DBA (“doing business as”). Prior to the founding of CCFP, the Israel Emergency Alliance had registered the following fictitious names with the Los Angeles County Clerk:

In November 2010, StandWithUs cofounder and chief operating officer Jerry Rothstein renewed these names and registered one additional fictitious business name: “Creative Community for Peace.”

Thus, by legal definition, Creative Community for Peace, StandWithUs, and the Israel Emergency Alliance are all a single organization with a single mandated board of directors.

In fact, the names are so interchangeable that the donation page on the CCFP site has the assignments reversed:

Creative Community For Peace is a 501(c)(3) organization, dba Israel Emergency Alliance.

The correct order would be “Israel Emergency Alliance is a 501(c)(3) organization, dba Creative Community For Peace.”

However, in order to finalize the registration of a fictitious business name, California law requires the business to announce the name in a local newspaper to alert the public, and an affidavit certifying completion of this step must be filed with the county clerk. Although the Los Angeles County Clerk has an affidavit for the registration of “StandWithUs” and “IEA” (below), no such affidavit was ever filed for “Creative Community for Peace.”

A legally required announcement declaring that StandWithUs and IEA are fictitious business names for the Israel Emergency Alliance was published in the “Pasadena Journal News” in December 2009.

In other words, to the extent that StandWithUs/IEA is doing business as “Creative Community for Peace,” it is not in full compliance with the law.

Independent or codependent?

The Forward quotes CCFP cofounder and advisory board member David Renzer as asserting that CCFP has

“always operated independently” of StandWithUs and that “there is no day-to-day relationship” with the group.

It must be difficult to proclaim independence when CCFP and StandWithUs share the same board of directors. And one must wonder how “day-to-day relationship[s]” are avoided when CCFP and StandWithUs share an office in the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s Goldsmith Center building.

Meanwhile, the mailing addresses for CCFP and StandWithUs refer to different post office boxes, but are both located at the same post office.

Online donations to CCFP trigger an automated email acknowledgement that states, in part,

This message is to confirm that an order has been placed with Creative Community For Peace.

If you suspect that this order has been placed fraudulently, please contact Creative Community For Peace at j*****@standwithus.com.

The email address belongs to Jerry Rothstein, the cofounder and chief operating officer of StandWithUs.

The CCFP website was established by StandWithUs

StandWithUs registered the domain name for CreativeCommunityForPeace.com on July 28, 2010, with Roz Rothstein listed as the contact, along with the StandWithUs email address of Jerry Rothstein. Roz is cofounder and chief executive officer of StandWithUs, and is also the wife of Jerry.

Some time between November 14 and November 20, 2010, the domain name registrar was transferred to the “Domains by Proxy” service, making the identity of the domain owner private.

From November 20, 2010 to March 7, 2011, the domain name CreativeCommunityForPeace.com redirected to the StandWithUs website’s host IP address, 67.199.116.67.

Both the CCFP and the current StandWithUs websites were set up by web developer Hagai Zamir. In fact, one petition featured on the CCFP website, entitled “Don’t Let Israel’s Detractors Politicize Art,” is recycled from an earlier petition entitled “Stand Up Against Boycotting Israel.” The latter petition was sponsored by StandWithUs in conjunction with Act for Israel and the Israeli Leadership Council.

In the newer petition, the CCFP logo appears in place of the “ISRAEL WE STAND WITH YOU” graphic.

Original StandWithUs petition (top) and the modified CCFP version (bottom).

However, remnants of the previous petition sponsors can still be found, commented out, in the HTML source of the newer CCFP petition:

Board member crossover

Staff and board members of CCFP are not fully identified on the CCFP website, although further information is provided on the letterhead. The StandWithUs letterhead lists its board of directors and staff. The CCFP letterhead, however, only lists its advisory board, which consists of Hollywood and music industry executives.

StandWithUs letterhead from 2011 (left); CCFP letterhead with contents redacted (right).

CCFP cofounder and advisory board member Ran Geffen-Lifshitz happens to be a board member of StandWithUs Israel.

Ran Geffen-Lifshitz at the graduation ceremony for the 2012 StandWithUs Israel Fellows, Israel Air Force Center in Herzliya.

Meanwhile, CCFP cofounder and advisory board member David Renzer, who denies a “day-to-day relationship” with StandWithUs, is married to StandWithUs cofounder and president Esther Renzer.

“There is no day-to-day relationship”: CCFP cofounder David Renzer with his wife, StandWithUs cofounder and president Esther Renzer.

Is CCFP apolitical?

In making the case against the cultural boycott of Israel, CCFP claims that it seeks to take politics out of the arts:

We believe art and music must be embraced as tools to transcend political tensions.

It is time to stop the politicization of art.

CCFP rarely expresses its opposition to cultural boycott in terms of a sense of loyalty to the State of Israel, but a closer look at its advisory board reveals otherwise.

The most prominent CCFP spokesperson is cofounder and advisory board member David Renzer. In 2009, when he was chairman and CEO of Universal Music, and before CCFP was even formed, a Jerusalem Post profile of Renzer explained,

If having influential friends in high places is part of Israel’s poker hand in the high-stakes game of hasbara, then Renzer is a sparkling ace in the hole … A behind-the-scenes A-lister, Renzer has never hid his affinity for Israel.

At the time, Renzer had been appointed the cultural chair of the L.A. Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv–Los Angeles Partnership. To explain why he accepted the position, he cited the influence of his wife, StandWithUs cofounder and president Esther Renzer:

“I thought of how much time and effort Esther puts into Israel, I said, you know what, I think I have to find a way to give a little bit back also.”

The Jerusalem Post article continued:

Together, the couple put their time where their mouths are when it comes to garnering support for Israel within the most important Hollywood community. “What David and I do isn’t so different,” said Esther … “Stand With Us is dealing with correcting misinformation about Israel, and with telling Israel’s story in a positive manner … We talk about both divestment and investment. And part of telling Israel’s story is speaking in the universal language of music and culture”…

Renzer also explained how he pulled some strings for the Israeli consulate:

“Recently the Israeli consul in LA was putting together an event and was trying to reach Gustavo Dudamel, the celebrated new director of the LA Philharmonic. He happens to be signed to one of our classical record labels, so I reached out to the head of our classical record label and got them together,” he said.

The Jerusalem Post profile concluded with a telling sentence:

Israeli hasbara has just found its straight flush.

Another CCFP advisory board member, Oasis Group CEO David Lonner, was profiled in Mosaic, the magazine of the L.A. Jewish Federation in 2008. There he was quoted as saying, “My end game in this business is to be some semblance of a Hollywood ambassador to Israel.” According to the magazine profile, Lonner was inspired by a sermon given by his rabbi during the 2006 Israel–Lebanon War, in which the rabbi said that Israel “needed us then more than ever.”

At that point, Lonner began working with the Jewish Federation to take Hollywood insiders on trips to Israel. “I was thinking about this almost as an adult birthright experience,” he said.

David Lonner picture and headline from the May/June 2008 cover story of Mosaic magazine.

When CCFP advisory board member and music executive Ron Fair was asked by Jewish Journal what the Los Angeles music industry thought about his business reputation in Israel, he explained,

The people that are sort of the Israelophiles are conscious of it. We all have like a little secret handshake and it’s kind of a wonderful bond.

Meanwhile CCFP advisory board member and cofounder Steve Schnur has been proactive in writing letters to artists, urging them to ignore the cultural boycott call, and it appears that he reuses the same letter with minor changes. Arguments made in a letter to the editor in Billboard magazine in 2010, prior to CCFP’s establishment, are repeated in personal letters to Jose Feliciano and Tom Jones in 2013 almost word-for-word.

Former advisory board member and Israeli musician Idan Raichel has stated, “We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict.”

CCFP’s advisory also board happens to be entirely Jewish. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with such a make-up, it belies CCFP’s claims to “represent a cross section of the creative world.” As cofounder David Renzer stated in his 2009 Jerusalem Post profile, “I managed to pull out the Judaism in all my friendly executive friends.”

And if it turns out that all of the board members have the same identity-based predisposition to shield Israel from criticism, then it belies CCFP’s claim that “We may not all share the same politics,” and it reinforces doubts on whether the agenda is the free flow of arts, and not political cover for Israel.

CCFP’s staff

I contacted CCFP director Lana Melman through the StandWithUs office phone number on October 21. When I told her that I wanted to ask her questions about CCFP’s relationship with StandWithUs in light of the Forward article, she told me she had not seen the Forward piece yet and did not want to answer questions relating to it (at the time, the Forward article was in print but not yet online).

She agreed to answer questions about CCFP that did not relate to the article, so I asked her how many staff members CCFP had. She told me she wanted to read the Forward article before answering that.

The following day, I called Melman again. At this point, she had read the Forward article. I asked her again—in the context of trying to understand CCFP’s relationship to StandWithUs—how many staff members CCFP had. She responded, “I don’t understand the substantive nature of that question.”

As far as is known, CCFP’s official staff consists of Melman and a part-time administrative assistant to Melman. The administrative assistant is tasked with updating the CCFP website and its social media accounts, as well as doing grant and field research, writing promotional materials, and performing general administrative duties.

What struck me in my brief and awkward conversation with Melman was although she held the title of CCFP director, she did not appear to give the impression of being in charge.

The most prominent spokespeople for CCFP are its advisory board members, particularly David Renzer and Steve Schnur. In most organizations, advisory boards operate in the periphery at best and are not considered formal members of the organization, much less spokespeople. Their interactions with the organization are minimal. In many cases, an advisory board is even cosmetic, where the prestige of individual advisory board members helps to boost the reputation and fundraising efforts of the organizations. Staff or members of an organization are more likely to speak on behalf of the organization than the advisory board.

Yet for CCFP, the situation is inverted. The advisory board is at the forefront, contacting potential performers for Israel directly, issuing open letters and speaking to the press. Meanwhile, CCFP director Lana Melman—who was previously a TV screenwriter and producer—takes a back seat, performing administrative duties and issuing press releases, as well as setting up US tours for the occasional Israeli prog-metal band (and trying to get them nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize).

Israeli prog-metal band and Nobel Peace Prize hopefuls Orphaned Land promote coexistence by appropriating Arab dress.

CCFP funding

A 2012 Jewish Journal article indicated that CCFP was founded with a “$50,000 start-up grant from The Jewish Federation.” According to IRS filings, the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles gave StandWithUs/IEA $370,650 in 2010 and $87,430 in 2011. It is unknown whether the $50,000 for CCFP factored into the amount for either year.

However, a grant in the same amount of $50,000, awarded to “Creative Community for Peace (Israel Emergency Alliance),” is noted in the 2011 tax filing for Donors Capital Fund, Inc. Donors Capital Fund is a notorious tax-exempt organization that facilitates anonymous donations to charities involved in conservative and right-wing causes, ranging from climate change denial to Islamophobia.

This summer, CCFP received a $250,000 grant from the L.A. Jewish Community Foundation, making it the largest grant recipient for the foundation in 2013 (tied with the Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center). In awarding the grant, the foundation classified CCFP as a recipient in its “Jewish Continuity” category, and stated that

The grant will enable CCFP to establish a strong online and print media presence to create a distinctive circle of influence: industry insiders educating their artist friends and clients who, in turn, educate the general public about Israel.

Nonprofit incubation?

The Forward article suggests that CCFP is merely incubating to become a nonprofit—meaning that StandWithUs/IEA has taken CCFP under its wing to help foster its growth before it becomes a full-fledged nonprofit of its own. This is common practice among nonprofits, but it is more commonly achieved through fiscal sponsorship, which helps maintain a distinction between the sponsored project (CCFP) and the fiscal agent (StandWithUs/IEA). It is less common to incubate a project by renaming the sponsoring organization—as is done in the case of StandWithUs/IEA/CCFP, and this suggests a much closer relationship.

Other details call into question whether incubation was the original intent of “partner[ing] with StandWithUs.” According to interviews with CCFP cofounders in the Jewish Journal and the Jerusalem Post, the idea for the organization arose after future advisory board member Steve Schnur had an epiphany while attending an Elton John concert in Tel Aviv on June 17, 2010.

StandWithUs registered the domain name five weeks later, on July 28. The domain name remained parked for months. More than one year later, on October 28, 2011, the Jerusalem Post profiled CCFP:

The CCFP, which is partially funded by the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and has been informally in operation for a few months,…  [my emphasis]

The earliest snapshot of the CCFP home page on archive.org is from August 2, 2011 and displays a bare single-page website.

In other words, CCFP had still not been formally in operation over a year after it was conceived. Yet StandWithUs had registered the domain name just five weeks after the day that Steve Schnur had his epiphany. StandWithUs was involved in CCFP from the start.

Is StandWithUs apolitical?

CCFP’s very association with StandWithUs compromises its alleged claim of being above politics. I have covered StandWithUs as it has tried to shield Israel from criticism through pinkwashing, spreading false rumors of a Jewish deli being boycotted, and helping to sue a food co-op for boycotting Israel, while others have reported on how StandWithUs tried to file a Title VI complaint against a college, and was connected to a pepper-spraying incident.

StandWithUs works closely with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having produced for the ministry a pro-settler video and another video which features the Dome of the Rock being destroyed. Former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has admitted that his office uses StandWithUs “to amplify our power” in the United States, and StandWithUs has worked with the Israeli Foreign Ministry to train students and airline personnel to serve as PR agents for Israel.

In 2009, when activists blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles to protest Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” offensive, the consulate contacted Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs for help. Rothstein quickly mobilized a counter-demonstration to defend the consulate.

It is no wonder, then, that CCFP seeks to conceal its relationship with StandWithUs, claiming independence and “no day-to-day relationship.” Nevertheless, CCFP itself coordinated with the Israeli consulate of Los Angeles, and its website eventually resorts to defending Israel with spurious claims that Israel “invented voicemail.”

The very name Creative Community for Peace evokes the cynical exploitation of the word “peace” that StandWithUs promotes:

Always include the word “peace” in your answer … If the Israeli side says “peace” more times than the Palestinian side says “peace,” we will win the PR war.

Something for everyone

The relationship between StandWithUs and Creative Community for Peace fits into StandWithUs’s practices of employing contradictory arguments to make its case, depending on the audience at hand.

It can be seen in the following contradictory StandWithUs billboards, created simultaneously:

Or in this excerpt from the StandWithUs Israel 101 booklet, where the top version boasts of Israel’s commitment to women’s rights and gay rights, while the bottom version, prepared for John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, does not:

Two versions of StandWithUs’s Israel 101 booklet. The top version is for general distribution. The bottom version, distributed by Christians United for Israel, was custom-tailored for misogynists and homophobes who love Israel.

It can also be seen in the many domain names that StandWithUs has registered (most just parked), such as:

Or ones that exploit the word “peace”:

Or one where the Rothsteins pose as students (imagine another remake of 21 Jump Street):

Or ones for pinkwashing:

And most inexplicably:

Librarians for Fairness

To conclude, it is instructive to look at another StandWithUs-affiliated operation, Librarians for Fairness (apparently “Librarians for Peace” was already taken).

According to the Librarians for Fairness website,

we work to ensure that Israel’s viewpoint is represented fairly in our libraries through books, periodicals, audiovisuals, online resources, and scheduled events.

Librarians for Fairness is an offshoot of the StandWithUs Library Project, which according to a January 2006 Jewish Journal article,

has raised more than $250,000 since its inception in late 2004, including a $50,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles … [The] Library Project has placed books, CDs and DVDs in 1,000 libraries nationwide.

A photo on its home page depicts four women holding books and videos in a library. The first three women may be presumed to be librarians. The woman on the far right, however, is not a librarian but rather CCFP/StandWithUs CEO and cofounder Roz Rothstein.

Rothstein and another woman can be seen holding DVDs of the anti-Palestinian propaganda film Relentless, the 2003 precursor to the Islamophobic films Obsession and The Third Jihad.

And though Librarians for Fairness claims to be “an organization with a moderate voice,” its website is full of crazed rants, seventeen of which are solely directed at a recent delegation of “Librarians and Archivists to Palestine”:

You are supporters of terrorism and murder. You advocate genocide…the annhilation of Israel and every Jew in it. You are the worst and lowest sort of bigots…You are the personification of evil and you shame and degrade our profession…we are going to expose you, again and again and again… And in all your writings and inaccurate reports, why have you never even once used a beautiful word? The word is PEACE! But we really know that doesn’t interest you!

Another Librarians for Fairness news release calls for the Israeli military to reinstate and promote Shalom Eisner, the Israeli army officer who was filmed striking a Danish activist in the face with his assault rifle:

Anyone who is aware of Lt. Col. Eisner’s exploits, as we are, knows he is one of Israel’s greatest heroes…The violent Danish protestor …  is much like the genocidal, Israel-hating anti-Semites of Librarians and Archivists to Palestine.

One of the few Librarians for Fairness posts that do not relate to Israel is a reprint of an article from FrontPage Magazine, entitled “Berkeley’s 8-Year-Old Book-Banner,“ which is a strange rant against feminism, expressed through an attack on an 8-year-old girl and her mother:

Forget the fearlessness and determination of, say, Harriet Tubman or Amelia Earhart or Aung San Suu Kyi or AYAAN HIRSI ALI [a strong supporter of Israel]; this is twenty-first-century establishment feminism in a nutshell: “You hurt my feelings!” “You offended me!” “You made me cry!”

Yet even in this case, Librarians for Fairness felt compelled to insert its own Israel reference that did not appear in the original article, placing Ayaan Hirsi Ali in all caps and noting that Hirsi Ali is “a strong supporter of Israel.”

And amid all these strange rants on the Librarians for Fairness news page is a press release from Creative Community for Peace.

(Invaluable assistance for this article was provided by Adalah–NY and West Coast supersleuths.)