'Pro-Israel' TV ads from group tied to Hagee, Abramoff
A graphic television advertisement pleading for aid to Israel, which has recently run during Countdown with Keith Olbermann and other cable shows, is the product of a group with close ties to neoconservatives, the right-wing evangelical community and former associates of Jack Abramoff.
The ad follows the standard pattern of most conservative fundraising appeals -- after first creating a sense of panic, it then assures viewers they can help by sending money. It begins with a female voice intoning, over what appears to be stock footage of wounded Israelis, "This nightmare is very real, a daily horror happening now for those living in Israel near Palestinian Gaza."
Yechiel Eckstein, identified as founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, next appears on screen to assert, "Right now, there are thousands of missiles prepared to be launched. The storm is coming. ... They seek to drive us into the sea."
The female voice then returns to plead, over a tollfree number, "Israel and its beleaguered people need our support now. ... Your call can save the life of an innocent man, woman, or child. ... The difference between life and death for Israel and its people is in our hands."
The group behind the ad, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, is no stranger to controversy. For example, it has been criticized by Israeli newspaper Haaretz for painting an unrealistically bleak picture of life in Israel in order to encourage donations.
However, IFCJ has enjoyed strong support from such right-wing religious stalwarts as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and Pastor John Hagee
When Falwell died in 2007, Eckstein called him "a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and a man that I was honored to call a personal friend."
Two years ago, IFCJ bestowed its highest honor on Pastor Hagee. Eckstein stated on that occasion, "More and more Christians are understanding their Jewish roots and the Biblical perspective that calls them to stand with Israel. That didnít just happen. Committed leaders like John Hagee have led the way, and for that, we are grateful."
Hagee's endorsement last year of Senator John McCain created an uproar when it was revealed that he had described Hitler as doing "God's work" by forcing the Jews to return to Israel and supported a permanent Israeli occupation of all Palestinian lands.
At that time, Eckstein refused to distance himself from Hagee, stating merely, "The Jewish community should accept his support but make known its opposition to those dimensions it finds offensive, including Hageeís reported attacks on other faiths and his opposition to a two-state solution."
IFCJ's supporters also include two close associates of convicted felon Jack Abramoff -- Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Ralph Reed.
Lapin's Toward Tradition was used by Abramoff as a front group to raise donations for George W. Bush's re-election campaign. It also accepted $50,000 from two Abramoff clients to hire former Tom DeLay aide Tony Ruby's wife, in an arrangement that Abramoff's own plea agreement described as a bribe.
Ralph Reed was closely associated with Abramoff for many years, and his Century Strategies worked directly for Abramoff on Indian gaming issues in 1999-2002. Reed's firm also worked for IFCJ, and he and Eckstein co-founded a group called Stand For Israel in 2002.
According to Media Transparency, " Eckstein ... has raised millions of dollars from conservative Christian evangelicals for his organization's various projects. ... However, on the road to raising tens of millions of dollars, it appears that he has diverted a fair portion of the money to a half dozen media relations, direct mail and telemarketing companies, including Century Strategies, run by Ralph Reed."
A blogger known as "Mrs. Panstreppon," who frequently posts on Abramoff-related topics at Talking Points Memo, remarked tartly of this relationship, "Right Wing Ralph is still leveraging his credentials as a card-carrying member of the 'Christian' right to line his bank account. After helping Jack Abramoff stick it to the Indians big time, Ralphie baby went on to make a few more bucks by pretending to 'care' about the Jews in Israel. ... Ralph Reed and Rabbi Eckstein forgot to mention that most of the funding for the 'Stand Up For Israel' campaign was going to go in Ralph Reedís pocket."
Panstreppon went on to note certain questionable payments listed in IFCJ's tax filings for 2002-04 and concluded, "If I thought Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein was a crook, I'd guess that the 'Stand Up For Israel' project was created to prepay and disguise illegal 2004 Republican campaign expenses. But I don't know if Rabbi Eckstein is a crook."