‘Mysterious’ Westchester Foundation Collecting the Cash for This Weekend’s National Campus BDS Convention
Hundreds of anti-Israel student activists will convene this weekend in Fairfax, Va., for the annual national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Conference, hosted by George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid.
But the bills for the three-day event will be paid by an entity that may surprise even many close followers of the movement to isolate Israel via boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
It’s not a traditional Arab-American hotbed like Dearborn, Michigan, or even a left-wing anti-Israel campus bastion like Berkeley, Calif. Instead, it’s a little-known foundation based in Westchester County, New York, a place known more for its golf courses and suburban synagogues than for hard-core anti-Zionist political agitation.
Click the “donate” button of the national SJP website, and you reach a page with a fundraising thermometer showing $13,000 raised out of the $20,000 goal “to ensure that we have a successful conference this year.” A further click brings up a PayPal page that says, “Donate to WESPAC Foundation.”
“We’re the fiscal sponsor of it,” the executive director of the WESPAC Foundation, Nada Khader, told The Algemeiner in a brief telephone interview this week. “It’s aligned with our mission.”
She clarified that her organization doesn’t fund or donate to the conference from its own funds, but supports it with its organizational infrastructure by acting as a conduit for money the SJP raises and “managing the bookkeeping for the national conference,” which she said that the progressive nonprofit tracks separately in its accounting software.
She said WESPAC has been serving in this role for “four or five years.”
Over that period, the WESPAC’s revenues have soared to $677,548 in the year that ended in August 2014, from $311,213 in the prior year and $226,053 in the year before that. The numbers come from the foundation’s three most recent publicly available tax returns.
Guidestar, a nonprofit watchdog and data site, using information supplied by WESPAC, lists the group’s largest donor as the Elias Foundation, which says it “seeks to promote a more equitable and progressive society by supporting the development of emerging grassroots leaders.”
Elias reported giving $130,000 for “general operating funding supporting WESPAC’s continuing growth and efforts to promote development of young leaders, peace and justice activism locally.” Federal campaign finance records show the president of the Elias Foundation, Jacqueline Mann of Mount Kisco, NY, gave $1017.16 to the 2016 presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
The WESPAC website says, “Our members are currently involved with food justice work, anti-fracking/anti-nuclear and pro-safe energy, solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, an end to militarism and drone warfare and a just resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”
The group’s website also openly discloses its support for BDS, declaring — in a section headed “militarism and foreign policy” — “WESPAC supports the call by over 200 Palestinian civil society organizations for punitive measures including boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian People’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.”
Khader’s bio describes her as a former Fulbright scholar in Tunisia, who also served as a consultant for the UN Development Program in the Gaza Strip.
The vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer, testified earlier this year before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the “corporate and fiscal structure of the BDS campaign’s major actors in the United States.” Schanzer, who worked from 2004 to 2007 as a terrorism finance analyst for the Treasury Department, told The Algemeiner that the WESPAC Foundation “remains something of a black box.”
“They remain one of the more mysterious elements of the BDS network,” Schanzer said. “Nobody understands the role.”
SJP didn’t respond to The Algemeiner‘s emailed questions about its sources of funding, the identity of its largest donors, or whether any of its funding came from overseas.
WESPAC’s Khader offered to forward our questions to the students, and we sent a query about “how these activities are funded, who the donors are, if any of them are foreign, how much money is involved.” We never heard back; if we do, we’ll post an update.
The surge of anti-Israel activity on campus has generated speculation about whether it’s being fueled by petrodollar potentates from overseas (who also might have an interest in fighting fracking or nuclear energy in the US, because it could undercut demand for imported oil). Some universities have accepted funding for Middle East studies or Islamic law programs from foreign royal families or businessmen. But previous investigative efforts to track the funding for student-led BDS movements have found that the amounts of money involved are relatively modest; one funding stream is student government grants of between $267 and $1,479 per academic year to individual SJP chapters on university campuses.
The AJP Educational Foundation, Inc., which describes its goal as publishing “educational materials to raise awareness on Palestine and the Middle East,” listed revenues of $824,710 for 2014, up from $567,188 in 2013. It is the fiscal sponsor of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), whose website says, “We are a strictly American organization working for Americans in America. We are donor-funded. All of our fundraising is conducted within the United States; all of our funds and work is kept within the US.”
AMP advertises that it “dedicates a large portion of its budget to support student activism on college campuses. We are here to offer free materials, information, speakers, infrastructure like the apartheid wall, and grants to help ensure your group has the best chance possible of achieving your goals.”
AMP is having its own upcoming conference November 24-26 in Chicago, a meeting that it is touted as “the largest gathering for Palestine in the US.” Tickets for college students are available at a discounted price.