Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Abramoff,DeLay, and Settlers

1) A well-connected American lobbyist named Jack
Abramoff, very close to Tom DeLay, starts a foundation
to assist US inner-city youth sports programs. This
foundation, the "Capital Athletic Foundation," raises
several million dollars with gala events, especially
from Native American gambling interests. Unknown to
the donors, however, the foundation managers sent a
substantial portion of the funds not to inner city
youth sports programs, but to Israeli settlers in the
West Bank. Some of these allocated funds were used to
purchase "security equipment," including "camouflage
suits, sniper scopes, night-vision binoculars, a
thermal imager," and other materials. The FBI is
currently conducting a "fraud investigation" into this
foundation. What's wrong with this picture?

How is this scenario different than several recent
cases where American groups (example: Holy Land
Foundation) were accused of raising money in the US to
support various groups listed as "terrorist groups" in
Israel/Palestine (example: Hamas)?

Considering the number of Palestinians killed by
settlers in the past four years, it would appear that
the moniker "terrorist" applies to such settler groups
-- indeed the US government has designated at least
two such groups as terrorist groups (Kahane Chai,
Jewish Defense League). So, if the group that
received this funding might at all be connected to
Kahane Chai or the JDL, doesn't it seem more logical
for the FBI to open up a "terrorism" investigation
rather than a "fraud" investigation? In the interest
of impartiality, either the aforementioned supporters
of Palestinian liberation groups should be tried for
"fraud," or Abramoff should be tried for "supporting

By Michael Isikoff
May 2, 2005 Issue

May 2 issue - The pitch from superlobbyist Jack
Abramoff was hard to resist: a good way to get access
on Capitol Hill, he told his clients a few years ago,
was to contribute to a worthy charity he and his wife
had just started up. The charity, called the Capital
Athletic Foundation, was supposed to provide sports
programs and teach "leadership skills" to city youth.
Donating to it also had a side benefit, Abramoff told
his clients: it was a favored cause of Rep. Tom DeLay.

The pitch worked especially well among a group of
Indian tribes who, having opened up lucrative gaming
casinos, had hired Abramoff to protect their interests
in Washington. In 2002 alone, records show, three
Indian tribes donated nearly $1.1 million to the
Capital Athletic Foundation. But now, NEWSWEEK has
learned, investigators probing Abramoff's finances
have found some of the money meant for inner-city kids
went instead to fight the Palestinian intifada. More
than $140,000 of foundation funds were actually sent
to the Israeli [Me: Israeli?] West Bank where they
were used by a Jewish settler to mobilize against the
Palestinian uprising. Among the expenditures:
purchases of camouflage suits, sniper scopes,
night-vision binoculars, a thermal imager and other
material described in foundation records as "security"
equipment. The FBI, sources tell NEWSWEEK, is now
examining these payments as part of a larger
investigation to determine if Abramoff defrauded his
Indian tribe clients. The tribal donors are outraged.
"This is almost like outer-limits bizarre," says Henry
Buffalo, a lawyer for the Saginaw Chippewa Indians who
contributed $25,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation
at Abramoff's urging. "The tribe would never have
given money for this."

Abramoff, a legendary lobbyist particularly close to
DeLay, is also a fierce supporter of Israel—"a
super-Zionist," one associate says. That may explain
why Abramoff's paramilitary gear ended up in the town
of Beitar Illit, a sprawling ultra-Orthodox outpost
whose residents have occasionally tangled with their
Palestinian neighbors [Me: How many Palestinians died
in these "tangles"?]. Yitzhak Pindrus, the
settlement's mayor, says that several years ago the
town was confronting mounting security problems. "They
[the Palestinians] were throwing stones, they were
throwing Molotov cocktails," Pindrus says. Abramoff's
connection to the town was Schmuel Ben-Zvi, an
American emigre who, the lobbyist told associates, was
an old friend he knew from Los Angeles. Capital
Athletic Foundation public tax records make no mention
of Ben-Zvi. But they do show payments to "Kollel Ohel
Tiferet" in Israel, a group for which there is no
public listing and which the town's mayor said he
never heard of.

Pindrus says Ben-Zvi was an outspoken proponent of
beefing up security and even began organizing his own
freelance patrols. "He used to bring in this
equipment—night-vision goggles, telescopes," says
Pindrus. At least some of the equipment appears to
have come from Abramoff's law firm. An August 2002
invoice obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that $773 worth of
paramilitary gear—including sniper shooting mats and
"hydration tactical tubes"—was shipped to one of
Abramoff's aides at the law firm where the lobbyist
then worked. Reached last week, Ben-Zvi angrily denied
any knowledge of Abramoff or being involved in any
efforts to obtain security gear.

The West Bank security payments are not the only
foundation expenditure being eyed by investigators.
The bulk of the foundation's money, about $4 million,
was used for a now-defunct Orthodox Jewish school in
suburban Maryland that two of Abramoff's sons
attended. Buffalo says his tribe had no idea its
donations were being used for this purpose, either. A
spokesman for Abramoff vigorously defended all of the
expenditures. Abramoff, says spokesman Andrew Blum,
"is an especially strong supporter of Israel and has
tried to find ways to help Israelis and others to be
less susceptible to terrorist attacks." Still, the
increasing attention from the news media and
investigators is causing even old friends like DeLay
to back away. A spokesman last week vigorously
disputed that DeLay had anything to do with Abramoff's
charity. Although he had been scheduled to attend a
planned gala fund-raiser for the foundation two years
ago, DeLay never went. As for the security shipments
to the West Bank, DeLay knew nothing about it, the
spokesman said.

With Dan Ephron in Jerusalem

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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