Pamela Geller speaks at a September 11, 2012 conference (AP Photo/David Karp)
The nation’s leading anti-Muslim blogger and activist is back at it again in the New York City subway system. On December 17, Pamela Geller, who runs the blog Atlas Shrugs and is the head of Stop Islamization of America and the American Freedom Defense Initiative, had inflammatory ads put up in 50 subway stations at a cost of over $10,000. The ads picture the World Trade Center burning on September 11 and quote a Qu’ran verse–tying the religion of Islam to the terrorist attacks.
And in September, she put up another round of anti-Muslim advertisements at a cost of thousands of dollars. Many of them were altered and defaced by activists.
All of this begs the question: who is paying for Geller’s antics?
The latest advertisements that went up in the subway December 17.
It remains unclear who exactly is funding the ad buys. In an e-mail to Mondoweiss, Geller said “all the money for the ads comes from supporters’ donations.” On the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s website, a donation button urges readers to “fund the fight.” But the word “supporters” is not exactly revealing. (It’s also worth noting that Geller won a $4 million divorce settlement and $5 million in life insurance.)
Tax records, though, show who partly funded Geller two years ago, when she first made a big name for herself leading the fight against the Park 51 Islamic center in lower Manhattan. These details have not been reported by other media outlets.
A foundation called the Alan and Hope Winters Foundation gave $5,000 to the American Freedom Defense Initiative in 2010, the Geller-led outfit behind the anti-Muslim advertisements. The foundation also gave money to a host of other anti-Muslim outfits that year, including the neoconservative Hudson Institute ($25,000) and David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence ($115,000).
Geller said that the Winters’ money went to her activism around Park 51. But the fact that a big-pocketed foundation gave cash to Geller’s group raises the question as to whether other foundations are likewise funding Geller’s ad buying spree.
Regardless of the answer to that question, the Winters donation is interesting in its own light. Hope Winters was on the board of The Israel Project in 2006 and 2007, according to 990 tax forms reviewed. It is the clearest example yet of how members of the Israel lobby are tied to Geller, a woman who told The New York Times that “a very good guide” to how she sees the world is the “prism of Israel.” Indeed, her last ads read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” And next to those words were the following: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
The Israel Project (TIP) is a thoroughly-mainstream and well-connected shop that seeks to put “a more positive public face of Israel” out for everyone to see. TIP works with journalists to inform–or spin– the American public about the region. The group’s influence can be seen in the fact that a number of Senators and Representatives from both parties sit on its “board of advisors.”
Currently, TIP is headed by Josh Block, a former spokesperson for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. TIP did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
So what’s a former board member with TIP doing funding Geller’s hateful crusade against an Islamic center? Winters did not respond to inquiries relayed to her through an associate who helps handle her foundation’s finances. But it’s not too hard to guess.
TIP’s and Geller’s goals converge when it comes to Israel. They both support hawkish right-wing Israeli governments bent on colonizing the West Bank. They both want aggressive U.S. or Israeli action against Iran. Geller’s whole shtick is to cast Israel as a Western outpost in a sea of Arab and Islamic barbarism–the first line of defense in the “war on terror.” More subtly, TIP sees the Middle East in that way as well.
And TIP has other links to well-known Islamophobes. As the Institute for Policy Studies’ Right Web project notes, the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney spoke at a 2007 TIP-organized press conference about the “Iranian threat.” When Gaffney is not pushing for aggressive action against Iran, he’s pontificating about the threat of Muslim Brotherhood infiltration in the U.S. government and how sharia law is slowly taking over. Crazy stuff, but TIP has no problem with it.
The explicit links between Geller and TIP are a sharp contrast to how other mainstream Jewish groups have reacted to her anti-Muslim ad buys. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Community Relations Council condemned Geller’s September ads, which conflated Muslims and Palestinians with “savages.” But these groups have themselves dabbled in explicit Islamophobia. A Dallas branch of the ADL, for instance, once held a screening for the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”
Geller told me in an e-mail that “many clear-thinking and freedom-loving Jewish groups approve of my work.”
While Geller remains a step too far for some groups, like the ADL, she operates within the larger context of Islamophobia that has been aided by Israel lobby groups. Think of her as the tip of the big spear pushed by more mainstream pro-Israel groups. And her links with The Israel Project bring the Geller tip that much closer to the mainstream establishment.