Obsession DVD: Who Put Hate in My Sunday Paper?
|Friday, October 10,2008 12:57|
|By Omid Safi|
Something strange has been showing up inside the Sunday newspapers of millions of Americans the past few weeks. The material being included alongside comics, coupons, and advertisement for local stores is a controversial DVD called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Some 28 million copies of this DVD have been distributed for free so far in this fashion. In some ways the scale of this campaign, and its ideological venom, are unprecedented: many newspapers state that they had never previously distributed free DVDs as inserts, certainly nothing with such a charged content. The copies were distributed not randomly across the country, but in the “swing states” (
Answering that question proved harder than one might think, as the groups behind this DVD have worked hard to hide their tracks. The connections, which are partially concealed in the DVD and the distribution campaign, take one from groups in
The “facts” presented by Obsession have already been refuted in several detailed presentations. For example, see the work of Obsessionwithhate.com and that of Sheila Musaji, as well as Altmuslim.com. Therefore, I am not going to make a point by point refutation of the contents of the DVD. My intention is to explore the networks that are behind the production and distribution of this DVD, with their clear goal of influencing the 2008 Presidential elections towards John McCain.
All politics is local, as well as global. That is particularly the case here. The distribution of the DVD affected me and my family at an intimate local level: up to 160,000 copies of this propaganda piece were distributed through our local community in
Upon contacting the local newspaper, the Raleigh-based News and Observer, and asking why such a hateful piece of propaganda was being distributed for free to all the subscribers, the response of the paper was less than impressive. Jim McClure, vice president of display advertising for The News and Observer, said: “Obviously, we have distributed other product samples, whether it’s cereal or toothpaste.”
Really? Is this where we are? That a DVD which includes 77 minutes of propaganda footage slicing together videos of violent Muslims with those of Nazis, suggesting that Muslims are out to destroy Western civilization, is comparable to cereal and toothpaste? Puhleeze…
The claims of the DVD, which claims to be an educational product and part of a non-profit production, are as follows:
*That the world stands today as it did in 1938. Radical Islam is as great, if not greater, of a threat than the Nazis presented to the world. And action [not specified] must be taken.
*That the attacks in
*A distinctive feature of the DVD is in fact the linking together of threat of radical Islam with passionate defense of
• “Former PLO Terrorist Who Speaks Out For Israel”, Walid Shoebat, who claims to have been a “former Islamic terrorist” turned Christian Evangelical Zionist. Never mind that the Jerusalem Post has already dismissed the factuality of his claims.
• Nonie Darwish, with the tell-all website: http://www.arabsforisrael.com/ “Arabs for
• Carline Glick, a member of Israel On Campus Coalition.
• Daniel Pipes. If the Pro-Israel/Neo-conservative unholy alliance had a poster-child, Pipes would be it. Pipes is the most noted Islamophobe operating in the
One could go on and on, but the above should give some indication that contrary to what the Clarion Fund claims on its website, the “experts” paraded on TV are not impartial and objective. They have a definite point of view, a passionate defense of
Who Made this DVD?
Let’s come back to the claim of the local newspaper, that the distribution of this product is qualitatively no different than putting a free sample of toothpaste in the Sunday paper. For the sake of argument, let us take that analogy and go with it. How many of us would receive an unmarked package of toothpaste, and brush our teeth with it if it carries no label, no description of who has made it, and no account of whether any agency has vouched for its safety? If we do not take unmarked material to our teeth, why would we take a product like Obsession which refuses to disclose the network behind it into our hearts, into our schools, synagogues, mosques, churches, and civic institutions?
The Obsession DVD states that it is made by “Clarion Fund”. What does the Clarion Fund stand for? And who exactly are they? Their intentions are made a bit clearer through the use of their registered website: http://www.radicalislam.org. What exactly does “radical Islam” constitute? Who stands for it, and who opposes it? We are not told, aside from this: “Radical Islam poses a significant threat to the Western way of life. The Islamists’ ultimate aim is conversion and domination of the West, which they see as the root of all evil that must be eradicated.” This type of labeling without defining is as unhelpful as accusations of “Communist” in the 1950’s, or “unpatriotic” and “un-American” more recently. It is a catch-all, bogey man argument that is masquerading as analysis.
Who has produced the Obsession DVD? On the Obsession The Movie website, the producer is identified as
When we dig a bit deeper, it turns out that
Director, Aish HaTorah International
So does this Obsession DVD fall within the purview of Aish HaTorah’s “outreach”? Given the intertwined nature of the political and the religious in
The connections between Aish HaTorah and Clarion Fund go even deeper. According to the paperwork filed with the
The Israeli paper Haaretz noted that the Obsession DVD “has a largely Jewish and pro-Israel distribution network, though Shore is trying to expand the film’s appeal.” As we shall see, this he accomplished by reaching out to Neoconservatives and Christian Zionists, but first some more on the film’s Pro-Israel distribution network.
Hasbara Fellowship and Honestreporting.com
The pattern is beginning to become clearer: how is it that a group with the stated goal of “
Hasbara Fellowship’s own websites includes the following pieces of information about their genealogy and mission. All of the following are direct quotes:
• “Hasbara Fellowships, a program spearheaded by Aish International, educates and trains university students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses.”
>in other words, they freely acknowledge the link to Aish HoTorah International.
• “Started in 2001 in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hasbara Fellowships brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter.”
>This is perhaps the most intriguing connection and startling confession, that Hasbara has a direct connection to the Israeli regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which acts as the official and national propaganda center for the Israeli state. To recapitulate, there is a direct link between the Obsession DVD and the Israeli state through Hasbara Fellowship.
• ”So far, Hasbara Fellowships has trained over 1,400 students on over 250 campuses, providing its participants with the information, tools, resources, and confidence to return to their campuses as leaders in the fight for Israel’s image.”
>This points to the acknowledgement that the struggle over Palestine/Israel is going to be fought—rhetorically, one hopes—on college campuses. In fact, college campuses formed the primary site of the distribution of the Obsession DVD before the newspaper campaign. The primary audience on college campuses have been Jewish organizations (like Hillel) and College Republicans. We will come back to this connection between Jewish groups and Republicans later. Shore himself has stated that: “The evangelical Christians and the Jews tend to be the softest market…”.
Haaretz reported that “Obsession” is described as “Honest Reporting’s newest documentary film.” Honestreporting.com’s own website confirms this: “HonestReporting is proud to have been a former marketing partner during the initial production of this award-winning documentary.”
Shore, recognizing that the credibility of his propaganda would be undermined if its correction to Israeli-spin organizations were revealed, told Haaretz (in an unusually frank slip) that they “have told Honest Reporting to take it off their site ‘a dozen times.’” The connections between Obsession and Israeli groups like Aish HaTorah and Jewish advocacy groups on behalf of
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The spokesperson?for the Clarion Fund, Gregory R?ss, did not deny that this arti?le had appeared on their site, ?e was only upset that they had ?een caught with it! The Clarion?Fund has been established as a ?01(c)3 non-profit organization.?These types of non-profit organ?zations are not to endorse one ?olitical candidate over another? precisely what Clarion seems t? have done, and is now busy hid?ng its track records. NPR repor?ed on this, and the possibility?of a forthcoming FEC probe.
Who is paying for the?“Obsession Project”? ?/o:p>
We do not know for sure? and the Clarion Fund people ar? not saying. They admit that th? names they give for the funder? on their material are bogus al?ases. Shore states that 80% of ?he funding for the Obsession DV? has come from one source, a ???Peter Mier”. Yet he goes on ?o say that these are just alias?s! In other words, it is hard t? know for sure who is paying fo? the production and even more i?portantly the distribution of w?at the Endowment for Middle Eas? Truth (EMET), the main distrib?tor for Obsession, refers to as?the “Obsession Project.”
Given that EMET est?mates that this project cost te?s of millions of dollars, the s?gns seem to point to none other?than Sheldon Adelson, the Jewis? Republican billionaire, discus?ed below.
Who Dis?ributes the DVD?
?ccording the New York Times, when Shore and Co. could not find any traditional distributor for their propaganda, they formulated a strategy of working with Neo-Conservative organizations like Heritage, College Republicans, and above all, Jewish organizations.
NPR has reported that an organization called Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), is also responsible for distribution of the Obsession DVD. Like Honestreporting.com, the “Middle East Truth” being bandied about here is yet another self-described Zionist/pro-Israel understanding of the reality whose policies are in line with Likud militant expansionism, with the stated mission of support for
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET),, the distributor for Obsession, also has an open connection to the Republican Party, which they flaunt on their website: “EMET was also requested to help the Republican Policy Committee with a Sense of the Congress resolution talking about
Leading the work of this Endowment has been Sarah Stern, who formerly worked as the National Policy Coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America and later on served as the Director of the Office of Legislative and Governmental Affairs of the AJC (American Jewish Congress).
In short, the distributors of the Obsession DVD are the most ardent and fanatical supporters of Israeli Likud militant expansionism, a fact that the Obsession DVD conveniently omits, and the newspapers who spread the 28 million copies of this DVD like a virus never looked into. EMET also has a cozy relationship with the right-wing Jewish billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson, who has a proven track record of using his wealth to push both Israeli Likud-type and Republican agendas. Adelson has a long-standing and public relationship with the arch-Likud Netanyahu that Haaretz has reported on previously. A recent investigative piece in the New Yorker proved many details of Adelson’s political agenda in both the
Adelson is usually listed as by Forbes as the third richest American, and the sixth richest person in the world. His personal wealth is estimated as exceeding $20 billion. The Washington Post reports that he has already given over 200 million dollars to Jewish and Israeli causes, including the Birthright program, to which he makes a $25 million annual contribution.
To place Adelson on the political spectrum, it is good to recall that he has described himself as a critic of AIPAC—from the far right! In other words, he feels that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has been too soft on Palestinians. (!) Adelson has been a longtime contributor to Jewish and Republican causes, including the campaigns of George W. Bush. Initially, he had designs of spending $250 million dollars to set up an organization called Freedom Watch to keep Obama out of the White House. Freedom Watch, conceived of as the Right’s answer to Moveon.org, has been a meeting ground between Jewish Republicans and former officials of the George W. Bush administration. Such is the agenda of Adelson, the person whose influence is behind the EMET folks distributing the Obsession DVD.
Who else serves on the board of EMET (Endowment for
• Ambassador Yossi Ben-Aharon: Formerly, the Chief of Staff for Ytzak Shamir, and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
• Ambassador Yoram Ettinger. “Minister for Congressional Affairs at
• Lenny Ben-David: “Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission (number two diplomat) in Washington after being appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”, who in addition has “held senior posts in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for 25 years, in both Washington and Israel.”
In addition to Israeli officials, the EMET Board also includes:
• Neo-Conservatives such as R. James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney (another Neo-Con who has received awards from the Zionist Organization of America), Ariel Cohen (from the Neo-Conservative bastion Heritage), David Dalin (from the Neo-Con Hoover Institute and also Heritage).
• Ardent pro-Israel lobbyists such as: Daniel Pipes, Caroline Glick (deputy managing editor of Jerusalem Post), Meyrav Wurmser (the former director of the highly biased MEMRI, a propaganda organization founded by members of the Israeli Defense Force), Also serving on the Board of EMET are many of the “talking heads” would-be experts of Obsession, such as Walid Shoebat.
• Christian Zionists: EMET also reaches out to Christians—or one should specify, Christian Zionists—by featuring Rev. James. M. Hutchens, who founded an organization called The Jerusalem Connection International.
There are many more connections to pro-Israel organizations responsible for the distribution of Obsession:
• The producer,
• The producers of Obsession also worked with the most lunatic fringes of the Christian evangelical movement to distribute their propaganda. This included above all else Christians United For Israel (CUFI), who mailed out many copies of the DVD from their mailing center. And the Founder and National Director of Christians United For
• Clarion Fund has also worked with other Republican groups to distribute their propaganda. NPR reported that a political consultant named Joe Wierzbicki was screening the film on 9/11 in
The lines of connection between the makers of the allegedly impartial and non-profit Obsession and politically partial Republican groups and pro-Israeli expansionist Jewish organizations continues to grow…
• The last of the verified connections so far is between the producers of Obsession and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). The RJC worked hand in hand with Christians United For Israel to mail out copies of a book titled Standing With Israel to a large number of American Rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community. The package also included a copy of the Obsession DVD, and an approving letter from a former Israeli ambassador to Jews, encouraging them to strengthen connections with Christian Zionists.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is yet another group that the Clarion Fund and the Endowment for Middle Eastern Truth has worked which has taken a partial political position for the forthcoming election. On their website, the Republican Jewish Coalition states that Barack Obama and Joe Biden and their supporters “have handed Ahmadenijad [sic] a big win.”
Islam or Radical Islam?
Perhaps a word should be added here about the distinction between Islam and Radical Islam. In the last few years, we have indeed seen a number of terrorist acts around the world which have resulted in the death of thousands. While the bulk of these have not emanated from Islamic organizations, many have. (Of course the majority of the victims of acts of terrorism even in these latter cases have been other Muslims.) No doubt, a critical look at the ideology of terrorist groups is more than called for in today’s political climate. What many would object to, however, is painting all Muslims and all of Islam with the same brush.
The Obsession DVD opens by making a sharp distinction between Islam and Radical Islam. The producers of the documentary state, adamantly, that they are not anti-islam or anti-Muslim, but that they are only against “Radical Islam.” Leaving aside for a moment the debates over what constitutes “radical Islam”, and how pervasive it actually is, there is an uncomfortable disconnect between this claim on their website and the claims made inside the DVD: the people paraded as would-be experts do not in fact share this neat dichotomy between Islam and “Radical Islam.” The many speakers paraded here have a documented history of making blanket statements against Islam—all of Islam—and all of Muslims.
Let’s take one example, the very first speaker shown on camera: Walid Shoebat.
Shoebat’s claim to fame is that he claims to be an ex-“Islamic terrorist”, turned Christian and lover of
• That Obama is a Muslim. Yes, that old myth again. Sadly, some 13% of American citizens believe this to the case, in spite of the fact that Obama is a committed Christian. Who knows how many more people are moved against Obama due to this rumor, which both Hillary and the Republicans have spread against him.
• “The Arabic speaking communities in
• He has been even more forceful in asserting that Islam is evil. His exact words: “Islam is not the religion of God—Islam is the devil.” Let us be explicit here: The Obsession DVD claims that it is not targeting Islam, it is targeting “Radical Islam.” The first person featured in the DVD sings a different tune, literally demonizing all of Islam.
• Shoebat’s solution to Palestine/Israel, as told to the right-wing “Religious Zionist” Israel National News (the voice of the illegal Settler movement in
For one other example, we could look at another of the talking heads in the documentary, the Lebanese Christian Brigitte Gabriel, who appeared before the Christians United For Israel conference on
The difference, my dear Christian friends, between
No fair-minded person would take Gabriel’s hateful words as authoritative teachings of the Christian tradition, or as exemplifying Christian love. And yet the producers of Obsession want the viewers to take Gabriel as an authoritative expert on Islam and Muslims. Somehow when Gabriel describes the whole “Islamic world” as having “no soul”, I suspect that we are no longer in the realm of “we are not talking about Islam, we are talking about Islamic radicals” position that the producers of Obsession hide behind. No wonder that the NY Times described her as a “radical Islamophobe.”
Christ reminded us that by their fruits (and words) you shall know them. And the words of these hate-filled so-called experts speak for themselves.
The massive scale of the Obsession campaign raises a number of disturbing questions: it does point to the ease with which foreign groups from
The “Obsession Project” also does point to the eroding standards of journalism. Why has mainstream American journalism been so slow to pick up on these networks, all of which are publicly available, with some investigation?
The Obsession Project also points to the ever-increasingly poisonous political climate in our country, where demonizing an entire ethnic or religious community seems to be becoming more and more commonplace. We have seen African-Americans, Hispanic, Muslims, Gays and Lesbians, and others characterized in such a fashion. Perhaps no community in the West has been the victims of millennia-long persecution and “Other-ing” campaigns as has the Jewish community. That makes it all the more devastating, and disappointing, that centrally-situated and powerful Jewish organizations from both
It is readily admitted that
Lastly, we do note from historical experience that campaigns like this tend to increasingly lower the bar of what is acceptable speech as opposed to “hate speech.” Make no mistake about it: there will be follow up projects. The Clarion Fund has already declared that its next project is a documentary titled The Third Jihad. The synopsis is as follows: “How is radical Islam operating inside the West? Is a subversive ‘cultural jihad’ underway? How does radical Islam plan to bring
We can either keep going down this slippery slope of accusations and blanket generalizations, or we can bond together and rise up to say Enough! The point is not only that Muslims are being targeted, it is the very poisoning of our cultural discourse, and our hopes for a pluralistic American society that can welcome and embrace pluralism. To quote Martin Luther King, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” What we need now is less of the hateful heat of Obsession (and its networks), and more light from all of us who are committed to a just and pluralistic future for all of us.
Towards that day, starting today….
Professor of Religious Studies
Chair for the Study of Islam Section
*The opinions here are the personal opinions of the author, and do not reflect