PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
There’s been a lot of media attention recently since the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court that allows virtually unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires on elections, a lot of attention on activist billionaires funding their various candidates and helping shape the character of the 2012 presidential election campaign. But there’s really nothing new about activist billionaires either shaping public opinion or quite directly shaping public policy.
And now joining us to talk about some of that activity is Max Blumenthal. He’s an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of the book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party. Thanks very much for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Good to be on with you.
JAY: So you have a recent piece in The Nation. I think it’s called "The sugar mama that funds Islamophobia". Tell us that story.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, this is one of a series of pieces I’ve done on the multimillionaires who are funding the Islamophobia industry. And they’re not funding election campaigns, necessarily. They’ve decided that their money can be used more effectively to fund a small coterie of talking heads and think tanks that advance anti-Muslim views and seek to delegitimize the citizenship of American Muslims. And they’ve had an enormous, disproportionate effect with what’s actually very little money.
The person I profiled in my piece, Nina Rosenwald, (she’s the heir to the Sears-Roebuck fortune) has spent about $2.8Â million specifically on funding anti-Muslim figures and groups in the last ten years. But this money has gone a long way. And this is similar to a piece I did about another millionaire, named Aubrey Chernick, who spent around the same amount of money funding many of the same figures. And through this coordinated campaign of funding, they have been able to drive the Islamophobia industry and put the anti-Muslim agenda on the front of the American political radar.
JAY: And you talk in your article about a visit of the far-right Dutch political leader to New York. Tell us what happened.
BLUMENTHAL: Geert Wilders, who isâ€”until recently, really held the key to the Dutch governing coalition, until he pulled out in protest of austerity measures being imposed on the Netherlands by the European Union, which made him sort of populist hero, and who is really the leading Islamophobia in the worldâ€”I mean, this is a guy who went on trial for hate speech in his own country for calling Muhammad a pedophile, for calling for burning theâ€”for calling for banningâ€”an unofficial ban on the Quranâ€”was brought to New York City not once but twice by Nina Rosenwald, through her think tank Hudson NYC, which grew out of the Hudson Institute, a major neoconservative think tank which is no longer affiliated with it. And she hosted a fundraiser. According to her website, it cost $10,000 per person to get in. I don’t know if this money went to Geert Wilders’ legal fees, for his battle against hate speech, if it went into his campaign chest or what, but this is really remarkable. And she’s apparently hosting these fundraisers at her apartment in New York City.
She’s a major socialite. She’s very close to Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative godfather who is the publisher of Commentary magazine. And she’s also close to people like former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who sits on the board of MEMRI with her, a think tank, another anti-Muslim think tank. She’s close to a whole host of national security figures.
And so she’s really riding the axis (and this is what I tried to illustrate in my piece; this is sort of an underlying theme) between the mainstream Israel lobby and the far fringes of Islamophobia, and sort of bringing those fringes, those people from the far shores of the right, like Geert Wilders, into the pro-Israel mainstream. She’s funding Wilders or she’s raising money for Wilders. She’s funding people like Daniel Pipes, extremist anti-Muslim who said thatâ€”anti-Muslim figure who said that Muslims are brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.
And at the same time, she’s sitting on the board of JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which is sort of a right-of-center, very major pro-Israel think tank. She’s sitting on the board of MEMRI, which is responsible for translating supposedly, you know, anti-Semitic diatribes by Muslim sheikhs in the Middle East. She’s sitting on the boardâ€”she has sat on the board of AIPAC, which is the mainstream arm of the American-Israel lobby. And she has supported WINEP, which is a AIPAC-related think tank. So she’s really, likeâ€”she is the lobby. And at the same time, she’s doling out money to extremist bigots.
JAY: Now, New York sort of has the reputation of being, you know, northeastern liberals and all of this. But a lot of this neoconservative activity’s going on in New York in these salons and that. People like John Bolton are speaking. Tell us a bit more about that.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I mean, she’s hosted at her salons John Bolton. She’s even hosted Henry Kissinger. She hosted the conservative martyr Andrew Breitbart in her living room. And, you know, through her money she’s been able to emerge as a major sort of socialite and political doyenne of the neoconservative movement. And people who know her describe her to me not exactly as someone who’s a sophisticated Machiavellian political operator, but more of a babe in the woods, in the words of one associate, who holds extremist anti-Arab and anti-Muslim views that really reflect her friendship with Norman Podhoretz and his daughter, Ruthie Blum, who is a columnist for Israel HaYom, which is the pro-Netanyahu Israeli newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, the American billionaire who just, I think, donated $10Â billion to the Mitt Romney campaign, ’cause she’s mixing with all these neoconservative figures, but she also has an enormous amount of influence and connections with people who are closer to the mainstream, and with the mainstream Israel lobby.
And what this really isâ€”this is another theme in my pieceâ€”it’s a story of one of the most famous Jewish-American families. Her grandfather was Julius Rosenwald, who worked his way up to the ownership of Sears-Roebuck company after coming to the United States from Eastern Europe. Julius Rosenwald was not a Zionist. He was a non-Zionist. The only thing he backed in mandate Palestineâ€”this is before Israel was foundedâ€”was Hebrew University, funded by Judah Magnes, who actually wasâ€”could have been considered an anti-Zionist, who backed a binational state in what is now Israel-Palestine.
Her father, William Rosenwald, turned Zionist after the experience of the Holocaust, which he witnessed by helping to help Jews escape and then relocate from the displaced persons camps in Europe. This had an enormous effect on him. And then, after the ’67 war, you know, Nina Rosenwald’s generation turned extremely Zionist. And through her embrace of Zionism, she somehow found her way into the world of Islamophobia, where radical Islam is presented as the greatest threat to the Jewish state and Muslims are presented not just as a threat to Israel, which is sort of the advance-forward Fort Apache on the front lines of Western civilization in the minds of Islamophobes like Nina Rosenwald and Geert Wilders, but also who are presented as a threat to American Jewish life. I mean, if you listen to the words of Daniel Pipes, who’s received $2.3 million from Nina Rosenwald over the last ten years, this is what he said: I worry very much from the Jewish point of view that the presence and increased stature and affluence and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews. So this is really one of the things motivating the Islamophobia industry is the fear that American Muslims, not that they won’t assimilate and that they will form these jihadi cells, like, in, you know, dark caverns, but that they will assimilate and work their way into positions of influence and demand their rights as Americans, and that they will threaten the Zionist cause, which is, obviously, advanced in large part through Washington and through Jewish-American lobbying there.
JAY: And to what extent are we seeing these kinds of campaigns out of sort of more mainstream organizations, eitherâ€”like, something like a StandWithUs or even AIPAC?
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, good question. I mean, StandWithUs, which you mentioned, is one of the major PR arms of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. It’s sort of, you know, this astroturf organization that does lots of grassroots-seeming events on campuses and in cities around the country. And according to the deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, the Israeli government uses StandWithUs to increase our power in the United States. Those are his words. And StandWithUs has been sending people like Zuhdi Jasser, who is sort of a self-described Muslim, who advances the Islamophobia industry’s aims and has been backed by Nina Rosenwald to the hilt, they send him around college campuses, as well as Nonie Darwish, who is a self-described ex-Muslim who converted to evangelical Christianity, is now a hardcore Republican based in Orange County, who says that Islam is a poison to our society. And StandWithUs sent her recently to speak at the University of New Mexico. So, you know, this is an organization that exists to promote Israel, and specifically to promote Israel as a progressive idea, a country that, you know, liberals should wish they lived in, and meanwhile they’re sending hardcore anti-Muslim bigots to college campuses around the country.
And these speakers are being protested by students at the University of New Mexico. Students who protested Nonie Darwish were physically attacked by people who had come to see her speak, who then, after physically attacking young women and pushing them out of the auditorium, broke into chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" which I find incredibly ironic, because Darwish was there to advance the cause of Israel.
JAY: I mean, what exactly do they hope to achieve here? Because, I mean, one of the things one would think they might be achieving inadvertently is alienating a whole generation of younger Jewish-Americans, Jewish-Canadians who are in touch with this content, whoâ€”I would think most of whom would find this kind of stuff repugnant.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. And you can see groups like StandWithUs or the Israel Project, another pro-Israel PR organization, pushing the concept that Israel is a haven for gays and that it has a great record on gay rights, and at the same time, they’re hanging out with anti-gay bigots in the Christian right. The Israel Project ran a panel recently at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, which was a gathering of all the major Christian right, anti-gay, anti-abortion groups in Washington. So they’re speaking with two mouths. They’re speaking toâ€”they’re attempting to project one message to liberals and one message to the Christian right and to their right-wing backers.
And it’s really the right wing that is most receptive to the pro-Israel message at this point. You look at any poll of Democrats and the Democratic grassroots, and the opinion of Israel is declining. Any poll. Look at any poll, the opinion of Israel, approval rating of Israel, conduct of Israel, among grassroots Republicans, and it’s skyrocketing. I mean, Israel is not a foreign-policy issue in Republican circles; it’s a culture war issue, it’s a domestic political issue. And so that’s what the neocons have achieved by forging this alliance between the pro-Israel mainstream and the Islamophobic fringe. It’s turning off the Democratic grassroots, especially the young, and especially young progressive Jews, while exciting and energizing and electrifying the right-wing Republican grassroots, which is hostile to immigrants, hostile to foreigners, and hostile to, in my opinion, the concept of a multicultural democracy. And so that’s what Israel is coming to represent in the United States, thanks to these people. And I thinkâ€”you know, I don’t totally agree with Peter Beinart, but this is part of his message is that the pro-Israeli establishment, the Jewish establishment in America, is self-destructive and is on a suicide mission.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Max.
BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
JAY: And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.
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