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The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and Other Movements for Justice

[The following report, the executive summary of which is excerpted here. was issued by the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network. The full report may be read here.]


In the United States, criticism of Israel is increasing and support for the Palestinian movement for justice is growing. From the growing number of divestment resolutions by student bodies and academic associations across the U.S., to successful community campaigns to boycott or de-shelve Israeli goods, to blocking Israeli ships at ports across the U.S., the popular movement against Israeli colonialism and apartheid is having great success. Despite attempts to quash faculty and student speech, legally attack those organizing boycott campaigns, and prosecute Palestinian community leaders, the movement continues to surge.

In response, the purveyors of backlash are redoubling their efforts. At Florida Atlantic University, the administration has put a group of pro-Palestinian students on academic suspension until they graduate, placing them in “civility” courses run by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In Detroit, Rasmea Odeh, a long-standing Palestinian human rights and community activist, is facing imprisonment and deportation. A Brooklyn-based grassroots Palestinian group was infiltrated by police seeking with which to smear and prosecute organizers and activists. And, at San Francisco State University, lobbyists accused the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities & Diasporas (AMED) Initiative of support for terrorism, trying to link faculty and students to illegal activity in an attempt to instigate legal action against them.

These are all cases in which movements and activists face backlash, meaning a concerted campaign to stop any and all criticism of Israel. Israel and its defenders, aware that their longstanding attempts to influence public opinion in favor of Israel are faltering, are investing over $300 million in propaganda, surveillance, and lawfare directly aimed at silencing dissent and solidarity with Palestine. These defenders include a small group of donors who run their money through family, public, and community foundations and donor-advised funds, and who are funding Zionist backlash in

campuses and communities across the United States and the Islamophobia network—the network of organizations promoting virulent anti- Muslim propaganda, media, and policies in the United States. This report highlights 11 of the most significant members of this small group of donors who fund pro-Israel propaganda, and racist attacks on Muslim and Arab communities because it serves their political agendas and corporate interests.

This report outlines the tactics and funding of this network in order to:

  • Expose the political, policy and profit- making interests behind Zionist backlash and Islamophobia;
  • Offer the Palestinian and Palestine solidarity movements information we can use to defend ourselves and expose those who oppose and attack us;
  • Strengthen our ability to respond to backlash through organizing, movement strategies and legal defense in ways that build our power and successes while exposing our opposition;
  • Expose the interests behind and tactics being used to erode civil rights protections and suppress and criminalize free speech, political dissent and open debate;
  • Offer practical evidence of the relationship between these interests and attacks on social justice movements more broadly; and, thereby,
  • Build on the on-going legacy of joint struggle that has been so central to the Palestinian movement all along. By joint struggle we mean the ways we each find our specific stake in struggles for justice – whether our own or others’ – and in doing so find commonality across our movements. The evidence in the report suggests that, though our struggles are specific and may differ in urgency across place and time, there are not only parallels in what we are struggling.

This report is illustrative and not exhaustive. Our findings and conclusions are based on the incomplete, publicly-available information we were able to obtain. In fact, the obscurity of information which ought to be public knowledge in itself, illustrates how these elite donors ma- nipulate the non-profit system to gain tax breaks while advancing their interests at the expense of movements for social justice, and communities struggling for survival and liberation.

The type of backlash laid-out in this report is not limited to people confronting oppression in Palestine; all powerful movements face these attacks. That said, the virulence of the attack on the Palestinian movement is in response to steadfast Palestinian resistance. Sarah Ali, a Palestinian woman from Jabalya refugee camp, expresses the indomitable spirit that is the target of anti-Palestinian backlash: “Let it be known... that the more they kill and destroy, the stronger we become...Now I would rather die with my family under the rubble of our house than have a humiliating truce. No justice, no peace.


Since the late 1960s, US-based Zionist institutions have collaborated in attacks on movements for justice because they have seen their interests as aligned with those of the US state. Zionist institutions have played a prominent role in supporting the US government’s campaigns to undermine and discredit radical Black, Chicano, and Indigenous people’s movements.

These attacks are designed to promote the interests of the state of Israel and the Zionist movement at all costs, and in the process undermine hard-won civil rights legislation, legally protected political activity, and serve to invisibilize the real victims of racism and state- backed repression.

Furthermore, the false use of anti-Semitism masks the very material threats that Arab and Muslim people face in the United States. From the cases of the LA 8 and the Holy Land Five to those of Sami Al-Arian and Rasmea Odeh, Palestinians in the US face attacks on their citizenship rights and their very freedom.

Key Findings

I. Financing Backlash

1. Much of the funding of the Zionist backlash network comes from 11 extraordinarily wealthy individuals, many of whom acquired their wealth and retain investments in industries that directly profit from Israeli domination of Palestinians, Islamophobia, wars in the Middle East and environmental degradation.

  • Together, their foundations represent over $10,000,000,000 in assets, which does not include their private wealth and individual giving.
  • Becker, Scaife, Koch, and Schusterman all made much of their profit through their investments in oil companies.
  • Chernick (of the Fairbrook Foundation) and Becker are heavily invested in weapons technology.
  • All of the major donors highlighted in this report, like most other members of the 1%, run their money through major investment banks which follow whatever investments will yield the most profit, running roughshod over people and the environment.

2. These individual donors and their foundations mask their involvement in funding Zionist backlash and Islamophobia through providing grants to donor-advised funds, community foundations and other intermediaries. Intermediaries or “anonymizers” are foundations that serve to obscure the identities of major donors.

  • In this manner, an organization like the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, while presenting itself as representing the Jewish community, provides a way for Newton and Rochelle Becker to fund Islamophobia and Zionist backlash anonymously. Accordingly JCF-LA has given more than $100,000 to StandWithUs/Israel Emergency Alliance among many other backlash organizations.
  • One major intermediary is Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, a key part of the backlash network as well as the Islamophobia Network outlined in the Fear Inc. report by the Center for American Progress. MEF receives funding from eight of the eleven major donors involved in backlash. In addition, MEF receives funding from two other main intermediaries and the Fairbrook Foundation. In turn, MEF funds over a dozen other backlash and Islamophobia outlets, and provided the seed  funding for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). SPME gave seed money for the AMCHA Initiative, the pro-Israel watchdog based out of California, whose co-founders Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith have both served on the Board of SPME. MEF publishes the Middle East Quarterly and sponsors Campus Watch, Islamist Watch, the Legal Project, and the Washington Project. Pipes is also on the Advisory Board of the Clarion Project and Endowment for Middle East Truth.

3. Additionally, these funders are tied in with broader reactionary networks; Adelson, the Koch Brothers, Scaife and Bradley are among the biggest funders of right wing politicians and polices more generally.

  • Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, and the Bradley foundation have received widespread infamy for their bankrolling of far-right causes including attacks against organized labor and supporting the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party 
  • The major funders of the backlash network also fund organizations targeting queer people and movements, public education, other social programs, and environmental regulations. 

4. These donors also fund a network of think tanks and media outlets designed to advance Zionist ideology with the general public. 

  • In addition to major funding for the Reut Institute, we see funding for an array of think thanks promoting the militarization, policing at home and military invasions and occupations abroad.
  • These various media outlets, reporting often on the same story, create an echo chamber, lending extremist views an image of widespread popularity.

5. Side by side with attempting to destroy labor unions, many of these foundations contribute to charter schools and private health care facilities which serve to undermine publicly funded services.

  • Donations to museums, cultural institutions, and even universities can act as a form of economic pressure, where donors can threaten to withdraw funding if the funders disagree with the programming. For example, the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art was pressured into taking down a show of Palestinian children’s art.

II. Backlash Strategy: The Reut Institute Report

The Reut Institute Report, published in 2010, was a definitive strategy document for the backlash movement.

  1. The Reut report identifies BDS as an “existential threat” to Israel, equal in importance to military threats. 
  2. The report outlines a key distinction between what they call “criticizers” and “delegitimizers” of Israel—and encourage backlash activist to isolate and discredit “delegitizers” 
  3. In its report, the Reut Institute identifies “hubs” and “catalysts.” Hubs are parts of the network with a strong influence and catalysts are the people who wield that influence. Globally, key hubs include London, Toronto, Paris and the Bay Area. 

10. The report identifies students and organized labor as major contributors to past movements and recommends investing in confronting anti-Zionist organizing in these arenas.

Table of Backlash Funders: Profit Sources and Funding Priorities

11. In response, the Reut Institute recommends building a network in order to counter our organizing. This report seeks to outline some of the funding and organization behind the network which has emerged.

Examples of some of the beneficiaries of the Backlash Network Funders include:

Agents of Zionist Backlash

  • ADL 
  • Aish Hatorah (Hasbara Fellows) 
  • Amcha Initiative 
  • American Friends of Reut Institute 
  • Brandeis Center 
  • Christians United for Israel (CUFI) 
  • The David Project 
  • Hillels on campuses 
  • The Israel Project 
  • Jewish Community Relations Council 
  • Israel on Campus Coalition 
  • The Lawfare Project 
  • Simon Wiesenthal Center 
  • Scholars for Peace in Middle East 
  • Stand With Us 
  • Zionist Organization of America

Media and Propaganda 

  • American Thinker 
  • Atlas Shrugs (Pam Geller) 
  • Commentary 
  • Front Page Magazine 
  • Israel National News 
  • Jewish News Service 
  • Middle East Forum 
  • Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) 
  • Orbis Journal 
  • PJ Media 
  • Tablet 
  • Times of Israel 
  • Watchdog the Jewish Advocate 
  • Israel HaYom 
  • Truth Revolt 
  • Legal Insurrection 
  • Breitbart the Jewish Advocate 
  • Algemeiner 

III. Backlash Tactics

1. The Zionist Organization of American and the AMCHA Initiative have attempted to use Title VI of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects against discrimination on the part of organizations receiving federal funding to reclassify criticism of Israel as discrimination against Jews.

2. Zionist organizations have tried to legislate censorship by pushing through bills criminalizing criticism of Israel in state legislatures in California, New York, and several other states, and on the congressional level through HR 707.

3. The backlash network uses law suits to derail BDS efforts and tie up organizers’ time and resources. After organizers won a boycott at the Olympia Food Co-op, StandWithUs and the Israeli consulate pushed a costly lawsuit against the co-op’s board members.

4. The backlash network wields accusations of material support for terrorism. In the case of Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, the AMCHA initiative attempted to report the San Francisco University professor to the U.S. government, claiming her research agreements with Palestinian universities was somehow connected to “terrorism” and improper use of university funds.

5. Purveyors of backlash make false claims of anti-Semitism. A long-standing strategy of the Zionist movement is to equate Israel and Zionism with Jews and Judaism, and then denounce criticisms of Israel or Zionism as attacks on Jewish people or Judaism.

6. Our opposition uses spying and surveillance to collect information to use against the Palestinian and Palestine solidarity movements. A delegation to Palestine was attended by a Zionist infiltrator whose purpose was to collect names and private conversations of delegation participants in order to build a court case against the sponsoring organization. This case opened up a window into surveillance of Palestine solidarity organizing, revealing the cataloguing of the names of Palestine solidarity activists through mining petitions they had signed.

7. The backlash network has poured resources into counter-organizing and propaganda on campuses, paying students to promote Israel on social media and organizing a so-called “Israel Peace Week” in response to “Israel Apartheid Week.”

8. The backlash network seeks to isolate Palestine from other anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles through tokenizing Black, Latino and indigenous support of Israel. A concerted effort has been made to reach out to and/or manipulate Black, Latino and Native communities in the US. While this has not gained much traction within these communities, it is used to hide the natural alliance of people confronting US repression domestically and Palestinians.

9. The backlash network co-opts movements for justice through / “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing”: Zionist organizations manipulate oppression of queer people and Islamophobia to make Israel appear liberal, in spite of the fact that Palestinian queer organizations say unequivocally that their first priority is ending the occupation of Palestine. Additionally, Zionist organizations like the Jewish National Fund engage in “greenwashing,” masking their colonial projects as environmentalism, and promoting the image of Israel as “green.”

10. The backlash network leverages US state power through mechanisms including funding cuts, selective prosecutions around “material support for terrorism,” surveillance, and collaboration around training of police. Israeli state power is also instrumental in its direct funding and coordination with backlash organizations. For example, StandWithUs and the Lawfare Project worked in collaboration with the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs to bring a lawsuit against board members of the Olympia Food Co-op after the co-op had passed a divestment resolution.

Movement Successes and Implications

“Thank you for supporting me. We can find the justice in some place maybe not in this court maybe in other place[s]. There’s justice in this world. We will find it... I feel I am strong. You will continue to be strong. We will face injustice. And we have to change this world.”
~Rasmea Odeh, November 4, 2014

The victories and successful building of our movement, our ability to defend ourselves and each other, and our ability to develop organization and coordinated responses has been remarkable. We have done so with a tiny fraction of the resources that our opposition has, and in the face of Israeli and U.S. state power. We have done it largely with people power.

1. The movement has won important victories on campuses, within organized labor, and in communities.

There are nearly 300 active BDS campaigns on U.S. campuses and a growing number of academic associations are taking up and passing resolutions in support of BDS. UAW 2865, the University of California Student-Worker Union became the first major U.S. labor union to endorse BDS, and ILWU Local 10 honored a community picket of the Israeli Zim Ship, refusing to unload for four days. A multi-racial, multi-movement coalition forced the city of Oakland to stop hosting Urban Shield, a weapons and police training exposition where Israel has promoted its technology and training.

2. The movement is building its capacity to respond effectively to backlash.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Asian Law Caucus have all been involved in the legal defense of Palestinian and solidarity organizers targeted by lawfare. Students for Justice in Palestine and USACBI are increasing national coordination to defend students and professors against backlash on campus. There are growing networks against backlash, including a West Coast and national network organized by IJAN, that focus on cross-movement building toward responding to backlash through tactics of strategic defense that Specifically, they describe wanting to strengthen the Palestine Solidarity Movement separate those engaging in what they call and build collaboration across movements. 

3. These backlash defense efforts have secured major victories.

Legal and organizing work forced rejection of the Title VI complaints against Rutgers and several U.C. Campuses, inviting a ruling that recognizes organizing in support of Palestine as politically protected activity. Popular organizing and legal defense, has thus far thwarted efforts to use Material Support Laws to target the Midwest 23, and won Rasmea Odeh’s release from jail pending sentencing. A mass mobilization of 350 academics and public intellectuals as well as 500 Jewish activists, intellectuals and community members defeated attempts to defund the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program in the Department of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University.

The following implications are a reflection of the discussions and organizing that the partners acknowledged in this report have done together and the ways we are figuring out how to defend ourselves. We have as our compass the courage and leadership of those who have been targeted and have lent their experiences to the strengthening of our movement.

1.Combining a broad public political campaign with a strong legal defense: Because our opposition’s attacks are both political and legal, our responses need to combine strong organizing strategies with legal defense. In the cases of Northeastern University, San Francisco State University, and the Midwest 23 among several others, the coming together of popular organizing and legal defense have produced successful backlash defense that also makes shifts in the broader political climate toward support for the Palestinian struggle and against repression.

2. Building alliances across our differences and standing against attempts to divide us into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” dissent: Part of the Reut Institute’s strategy is to create divisions based on political differences within the Palestinian and Palestine solidarity movement. Specifically, they describe wanting to separate those engaging in what they call “delegitimization” of a Jewish state in Palestine from those whose critiques and organizing may target Israeli state policy and practice and lift up the human rights of Palestinians, but don’t question the idea or fact of a Jewish state in Palestine.

3. Defending free speech and academic freedom as central to the protection of dissent, particularly anti-racist movements, while challenging racist speech: The protection of free speech and academic freedom, as well as freedom from censorship, are important battles, and ones that have wide popular support in the United States. The repression of free speech is most often an extension of the violence and repression used against those whose voices and experiences challenge exploitation and oppression. Defending the free speech of Palestinians, other Arabs, Muslims and others struggling for self-preservation and self-determination does not conflict with challenging actual racist speech.

4.Identifying opportunities for strategic defense and offensive strategies: By strategic defense we mean fighting backlash in ways that both successfully defend our organizing and also strengthen it. This might include setting public agency policies, legal precedents, or campus administrative policies that expand the protections we have as a movement or which discourage our opposition from the tactics they use against us.

5. Continuing the long history of joint struggle between the Palestinian movement and other movements for self-preservation and justice: From the national liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s to the South African anti-apartheid struggle to the anti-war movements of the 1990s and 2000s to today’s uprisings against police killings and other forms of State violence against Black and Brown communities, Palestinian and other Arab-led efforts have sought to join their struggle with other struggles for self-determination.

As it has been across history, and as this report demonstrates, the basis for joining together in struggle is not just parallel struggles against racism and repression or the political principle of solidarity and interdependence. It is also that movements for survival, freedom and justice share enemies in common whose interests literally erode and threaten everything these movements hold dear. Their power and resources are immense. Thus solidarity and joint struggle are not only principled but also strategic.


This report documents the major funders of Zionist backlash and Islamophobia and the huge amounts of money they spend to attack the Palestinian movement and other movements for justice. It demonstrates how their funding priorities stem from their profit interests, including investment in destructive industries like energy extraction and weapons technologies. The report highlights many organizations that are the main beneficiaries of the funding, and the strategies and tactics they employ. We offer this information in order to expose the ways in which our opponents collaborate to maintain their wealth and power at the expense of people and the planet. We hope that this information proves useful to those who, from various locations, are struggling for justice.

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