by Eli Clifton
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been noticeably quiet about the Trump administration’s slowness to denounce the spike in anti-Semitic attacks and bomb threats, its nomination of an ambassador to Israel who described J Street as “worse than kapos,” and its ties to ethno-nationalists like White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller. But AIPAC has done more than just tolerate the U.S. tilt toward extreme and often xenophobic views. Newly released tax filings show that the country’s biggest pro-Israel group financially contributed to the Center for Security Policy, the think-tank that played a pivotal role in engineering the Trump administration’s efforts to impose a ban on Muslim immigration.
In 2015, AIPAC launched a 501c4 advocacy group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran (CFNI). Expected to spend $20 million in July and August 2015, the group was “formed with the sole mission of educating the public ‘about the dangers of the proposed Iran deal,’” spokesman Patrick Dorton told The New York Times. The Times reported that the $20 million budget would go to ad buys in as many as 40 states as well as other advocacy.
Indeed, the group’s filing (viewable here) show that the AIPAC spin-off paid $18 million for “media related expenses,” $8.35 million for “phone program expenses,” and $58,200 for “survey expenses.”
Shortly after the group launched, my colleague Ali Gharib and I noticed that the group’s website featured two items promoting an exiled, ex-terrorist Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). CFNI even used b-roll footage from a press conference held by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which the State Department deemed the MEK’s “political wing” (earning it a corresponding terrorist designation until the MEK was delisted as a terrorist organization in 2012).
After we reached out for comment, AIPAC’s anti-Iran deal advocacy group scrubbed their website of the MEK related materials, seemingly acknowledging a PR misstep. But the b-roll footage remained in their television commercials and on YouTube.
AIPAC’s flirtation with extreme groups appears to have gone even further than borrowing footage from the MEK.
Tax disclosures reveal that CFNI contributed $60,000 to “Secure Freedom,” a donation to a group with the tax-id number 52-1601976. That tax-id number belongs to Center for Security Policy, a hawkish think tank largely devoted to advocating for greater defense spending (it received funding from Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, and General Electric) and pushing completely unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about American Muslim and Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government.
The contact address for the contribution was a residential address in New Orleans belonging to Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) staffer Marsha Halteman. Halteman did not respond to questions about why her address appeared beneath the donation.
CSP is headed up by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney who baselessly claimed that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and former George W. Bush appointee Suhail Khan were part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government. He also asserted that the Missile Defense Agency logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo” and helped launch an interfaith group to support Trump’s anti-Muslim agenda.
Gaffney and Trump aide Kellyanne Conway played a pivotal role in bringing about the administration’s efforts to ban immigration from seven (and now six) Muslim-majority countries.
In 2015, Gaffney commissioned Conway’s firm to produce a poll about Muslim attitudes. Released in June 2015, the poll found that 51% of Muslims agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice to being governed according to Shariah,” among other findings. But the poll’s methodology was deeply flawed, relying on an opt-in online survey which industry experts consider unreliable. Conway’s own firm later admitted the data was not “statistically representative of the entire U.S. Muslim population.”
None of that stopped Trump from citing the poll as his justification for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” on December 7, 2015.
It’s possible that the funds went to support CSP’s advocacy opposing the Iran nuclear agreement. Nonetheless, AIPAC’s willingness to partner with an organization whose president, Frank Gaffney, was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Conservative Union (which briefly banned him from their events after he accused political opponents of being part of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy) raises serious questions about AIPAC’s commitment to fighting bigotry, discrimination, and, in particular, Islamophobia.
Neither AIPAC nor CSP responded to requests for comment.