I was looking at my Twitter feed this morning in search of something interesting to write about, and I came across yet another tendentious anti-Israel tweet from Lara Friedman of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). Friedman will always pick up anything that makes Israel look bad, or can be presented so that it does, from EU threats to the latest Palestinian blood libel. But what is FMEP, I wondered?
FMEP was founded in 1979 by Merle Thorpe, Jr., a lawyer and investor, who died in 1994. According to the organization, he began to be interested in the “complexities of U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians” after the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli forces in 1967 (the FMEP site refers to the “sinking” of the Liberty, but she did not sink).
This is notable for two reasons. One is that I doubt that Thorpe was thinking about the Palestinians in 1967, when the PLO’s KGB-developed identity as a “liberation movement” was in its infancy. The conflict at that time was universally characterized as being between Israel and the Arab states. And the other is that Thorpe doesn’t mention the USS Liberty at all in his memoir (written just before his death) about his involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in a 1984 interview. What he did stress was a visit he made to the region in 1975 with his law partner, Senator J. W. Fulbright, a well-known opponent of Israel who said in 1973 that the US was “subservient” to Israel and that the US could not leverage its aid to influence Israel’s behavior, because “Israel controls the Senate.” Thorpe echoes these and other similar themes, such as the pressure exerted by the American Jewish establishment on Jews who criticized Israel.
The mention of the Liberty incident is troubling. It is a flashpoint for antisemitic and extreme anti-Israel groups. Conspiracy theories surround it. And if an extreme anti-Israeli interpretation of it was the basis for Thorpe’s views about the appropriate American policies toward Israel and the Palestinians, then the justification for his organization – supposedly to “promote a just resolution to the … conflict” – is tainted.
Shortly before his death, Thorpe and FMEP gave prizes of $5000 each to ten individuals that he called “major players in the search for peace.” They included Mahmoud Abbas [!], Hanan Ashrawi, Nabeel Shaith, and Faisal Husseini, along with several left-leaning Israelis and an American Peace Now activist.
Thorpe funded the organization himself until 1987. After that, he says, 5% of its budget came from “Jewish benefactors” and “Arab business interests.” Since it’s a 501(c)(3) organization, it isn’t required to disclose its contributors. But it’s possible to see from its 2018 IRS Form 990 that in that year it only received about $142,000 in contributions and grants. The rest of its income (about $408,000) came from investments, and the sale of some of its assets. After paying employees, contractors, and other expenses, and apparently taking about $423,000 out of the bank, it made grants and contributions of about $350,000.
This isn’t exactly Rockefeller Foundation territory, but it’s very precisely targeted. For example, in that year, FMEP gave grants to Americans for Peace Now, Truah, Churches for Middle East Peace, B’Tselem, J Street, the New Israel Fund, If Not Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, UNRWA, and numerous others, almost every one of which can be characterized as anti-Israel. Last year, they added Breaking the Silence, Adalah, +972Magazine, and others.
The president of FMEP is Lara Friedman, formerly director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now (AFPN), and prior to that an employee of the US State Department who served in several Arab capitals, and the so-called “US Embassy to Palestine,” the Consulate in eastern Jerusalem. She is very active in writing and speaking, always presenting the Palestinian position against Israel. She tweets and retweets multiple times a day, as she did on behalf of Americans for Peace Now, always highly critical of Israel.
FMEP’s Board of Directors is composed mostly of retired Foreign Service and military people, like Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox, who is a former president of FMEP and now serves as chairman of American Friends of UNRWA. They belong to a group of Middle East experts that Michael Oren described as “Arabists” in his book, “Power, Faith, and Fantasy.”
FMEP also paid $110,000 to Peter Beinart as a “consultant.” Beinart, a very well-known personality in the Jewish anti-Israel network, has developed a career based on the contrast between his Jewishness – he has claimed to attend an orthodox synagogue – and his hostility to Israel.
Both Friedman and Beinart would take strong exception to my calling them anti-Israel. Beinart in particular would claim that he loves Israel, is even a Zionist. They would both say that they support the continued existence of a Jewish state, while opposing “occupation” and “oppression” of Palestinians. They both say that they wish for Israel to be truly democratic, and that the present government is extremist, undemocratic and racist. They both argue that there is a reactionary American Jewish establishment that uncritically supports the policies of the Israeli government, and that most American Jews are alienated from it. They both wish the American government would pressure Israel to surrender the territories, and draw parallels between Trump and Netanyahu.
The combination of speaking and writing, along with a highly competent social media presence, has enabled the relatively small financial investment to produce a great deal of anti-Israel propaganda. And they do it quietly. Compare, for example, the amount of controversy surrounding FMEP (essentially none) and that about the Zionist Organization of America. The ZOA, incidentally, has about four times the assets and ten times the income of FMEP, and about half its twitter followers. I don’t know how to measure their relative effectiveness, but my feeling is that FMEP gets far more bang for its buck.
These are smart people and they make sophisticated arguments. They are careful to position themselves as mainstream, unlike their clients Jewish Voice for Peace or If Not Now. Beinart says he does not support BDS in general, although he has called for boycotting products of “settlements.” As far as I can tell, Friedman has not publicly stated an opinion on BDS as head of FMEP (AFPN shares Beinart’s position), but she has lobbied and written extensively against anti-boycott legislation in the US. And her organization provides financial support to organizations that do support it, like JVP.
FMEP is just one of numerous similar unofficial organizations dedicated to “peace,” but whose actual goals are to help Israel’s enemies by chipping away at support for her in the West. Their objective isn’t peace, it’s the end of the Jewish state. And if they think about it – and I can’t imagine that the likes of Lara Friedman and Peter Beinart don’t – that would entail more than a little blood on the ground.