by Eli Clifton
Yesterday, a new organization’s “promoted” (read: sponsored) tweet popped up on my timeline. It came from The Philos Project, a group dedicated to promoting “Christian engagement in the Middle East.” The tweet read: “Iran is known to sponsor #terrorism. Iran wants a nuclear bomb. What could possible go wrong? #StopIran.” A quick glance at the website reveals a heavy emphasis on rehashing fear-mongering clichés about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
A column published the day before Netanyahu’s speech before Congress by the group’s executive director, Robert Nicholson, warned that “Iran wants to take over the Middle East” because “they remember empire – and they want it back.” And “Iranian leaders see themselves as bringing about the end of history” because “Iran is prepared to kill and maim its way across the Middle East in order to achieve military hegemony over its foes.”
Even odder, Dan Senor, former chief spokesman for the ill-fated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, sits on the group’s board. Since leaving government, Senor, in addition to making money at Paul Singer’s Elliott Management hedge fund firm, has focused a lot on Israel advocacy through writing and promoting his book, “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” and co-founding (along with Bill Kristol) the Foreign Policy Initiative, the lineal descendant of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which did so much to promote the Iraq invasion (and indirectly to create the CPA).
So who is behind The Philos Project? It isn’t registered as a legal entity of any sort in New York State. Someone must be paying the bills, but who? The domain name, which was registered last May, offers the first clue. A woman named “Michele Packman” is listed as the “registrant name.”
Googling her name reveals that Packman is the director of operations and human resources at Singer’s family office. A little more research reveals that the Paul E. Singer Foundation is described as a “core funder “ of the Philos Project on the website of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference, an event scheduled to be held later this month in Tel Aviv.
Singer, a director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, is a huge donor to various groups that promote a hawkish line on Iran policy. Between 2008 and 2011, he contributed $3.6 million to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hard-line neoconservative think tank whose scholars have variously advocated for “crippling sanctions,” “economic warfare,” and bombing Iran. The hedge fund mogul has also supported the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank whose scholars, including Richard Perle and Danielle Pletka, led the charge into Iraq and have been no less aggressive in regard to Iran. In addition, Singer has supported the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs—he was listed in the group’s “Chairman’s Circle” as recently as 2012. The group’s current director, Michael Makovsky, recently compared President Obama to Neville Chamberlain. Singer has also served on the board of Commentary magazine, the publication that has more-or-less defined hard-line neoconservative orthodoxy since the late 1960s.
The Philos Project might be a clever example of astroturfing, attempting to portray itself as speaking for persecuted Christians while simultaneously promoting the aggressively pro-Israel agenda of a Jewish billionaire. If that was the intent, Singer and his employees should have been more careful in covering their tracks. If nothing else, the Philos Project stands as an object lesson in the eagerness with which neoconservatives try to create the perception that their views are shared by a vast, diverse constituency, which in this case is warning Christians about the imperial designs of Iran and the dangers of a nuclear deal between it and the P5+1.