[Updates are being posted at the end of the article: click here for the latest news.]
By Alison Weir
The tragic murder of a young American named Taylor Force is being used by some organizations and individuals to push new U.S. legislation on behalf of Israel. Force’s death is also being used to enrich an extremist right-wing Israeli organization with connections to an Israeli political party outlawed by Israel as a terrorist organization, and that honors one of the most damaging spies against the United States.
The proposed law, known as the Taylor Force Act, has already passed the Senate Foreign Relations committee, where it has gained bipartisan support and is expected to be adopted by the full Senate. The House version has a 111 co-sponsors so far.
This article will investigate the full story.
It will discuss the legislation itself; detail what happened to Taylor Force, his murderer, and his murderer’s parents; and examine the people behind the bill that uses Taylor Force’s name.
Among the cast of characters are a fervently pro-Israel hedge fund CEO, an Israeli general, an Israeli think tank, an Israeli-American billionaire, an Israeli lawfare organization, a media commentator, an American professor, and a U.S. Senator who calls himself a “guardian of Israel.” Finally, the article will discuss the Israeli extremists who seem to be making money off Force’s death.
Let’s start by examining the legislation itself:
What does the Taylor Force Act do?
The Taylor Force Act would cut most U.S. humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority until the P.A. stops providing financial assistance to widows and children of those killed or imprisoned by Israeli forces.
Specifically, the official text says that the P.A. must terminate payments “to any individual who has been convicted and imprisoned for [terrorist acts], to any individual who died committing such acts, and to family members of such an individual.”
Let’s look at what this means.
Israel’s definition of “terrorism”
Israel classifies virtually any action by the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and confiscation of Palestinian land as “terrorism.”
Palestinian farmers who protest Israeli confiscation of their farmland are “terrorists.” Palestinians who attack Israeli forces invading their villages are “terrorists.” Palestinians who attack armed Israeli soldiers are “terrorists.” This is a little like Britain calling George Washington a terrorist, or Nazi Germany calling violent actions by French resistors “terrorism.” In reality, international law recognizes that all have the right to resist.
Under a biased, “kangaroo court” kind of system, Israel has imprisoned approximately 40 percent of all Palestinian males at some point, as well as numerous women and children. Many of those held by Israel have never been charged with a crime; others have signed “confessions” in a language they don’t speak. Many are tortured, some of them American citizens, according to Foreign Service Journal.
Writer Kathryn Shihadah reports: “Most of the fund provides for those killed or injured while peacefully demonstrating, defending their property, or going about their business, and the thousands wrongly imprisoned or detained without charge.”
What about the small number of Palestinians who have truly killed civilians, an action most of us would agree actually is terrorism?
While killing civilians is illegal and to be condemned, such actions are also carried out by Israel. In fact, Israeli soldiers have killed many more civilians than vice versa, including a number of American citizens, including 23-year-old Rachel Corrie. Nevertheless, Israel provides money to families of soldiers who have died, even though many have killed civilians, women, and children.
There are streets and public squares in Israel named after Israelis who have killed civilians, including former Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who had been leaders of terrorist gangs. There are even tax-deductible American groups such as Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces that give money to the families of Israeli soldiers who died in action, even though many took part in invasions whose main victims were children and civilians.
The U.S. military, of course, also provides money to the families of American soldiers who have been killed in action in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that American soldiers have killed numerous civilians (see, for example, this 2013 report from Iraq).
None of these governmental disbursements are given as incentives to kill civilians; they are programs to provide for families whose breadwinners have died or been imprisoned. For Palestinians, many of whom are already in extremely difficult financial conditions, such financial support is particularly critical for the survival of such children and families.
This is also necessitated, as we will see, because Israel commonly takes revenge against such families.
As Ma’an News reports, the disbursements are “part of a larger social program to assist Palestinian families who have been affected by Israel’s nearly half-century military occupation of the Palestinian territory.”
Who’s behind Taylor Force Act
New York Jewish Week describes what most U.S. media have left out: that a fervently pro-Israel hedge fund CEO, an Israeli general, and an Israeli think tank were the primary instigators of the legislation.
The hedge fund CEO is Sander Gerber, whose company manages assets in excess of $4.5 billion.
But Gerber is more than just a very successful stockbroker. He is also, according to New York Jewish Week, the person behind the Taylor Force Act.
Jewish Week reports that Gerber “has been involved in Israel policy for ‘decades.’” Gerber also served many years on the national board of directors of powerful lobbying organization AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
He has been a fundraiser for diverse politicians, raising money for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 and then even more for George Bush in 2004.
Bush then named Gerber to represent the United States at a 2005 European conference on anti-Semitism, one of a string of conferences to create a new, Israel-centric definition of anti-Semitism (in contrast with the traditional meaning of anti-Jewish bigotry). In 2008 he was part of Bush’s Honorary Delegation to Israel.
He was also Vice Chairman of the Board of the Wilson Center, a Washington D.C. pro-Israel think tank that focuses on global affairs. It’s rated among the top ten most important think tanks in the world and has been rated the “#1 think tank to watch” in the U.S.
The Wilson Center head is Jane Harman, a former Congresswoman and Israel partisan from California who was the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security’s intelligence subcommittee. She was reportedly caught on a 2005 NSA wiretap working with an Israeli agent.* The chairman of the board was Joseph Gildenhorn who, like Gerber, had been an AIPAC board member.
What happened to Taylor Force
In 2016, a 28-year-old former U.S. Army officer named Taylor Force travelled to Israel on a student trip to study global entrepreneurship as part of a Master’s degree program. He hoped the program would help him “establish life-long connections and friendships.” While in the Army, Force served as a field artillery officer in Iraq and Afghanistan during some of the most intense periods of fighting.
Friends say that Force, a West Point graduate and former Eagle Scout, excelled at both athletics and academics, and was well liked. An Israeli classmate said that Force “genuinely loved everyone, regardless of their race, religion or creed.”
While in Israel, Force was killed by a 22-year-old Palestinian named Bashar Masalha who was randomly attacking passersby. This was during a Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation and land confiscation that had started a few months earlier and had already claimed the lives of 28 Israelis and 177 Palestinians.
Masalha was from the small, impoverished West Bank village of Hajjah, its name Aramaic for “market.” The village, like all of the West Bank, has been under Israeli military occupation for 50 years.
Context: It’s important to remember that Israel was created in 1948 by a war of ethnic cleansing. In 1967 Israel initiated another war that resulted in the military occupation of the Palestinian territories—the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and the illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights). For 50 years Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have lived under profoundly oppressive conditions, as documented in numerous human rights reports. (More information here.)
Masalha reportedly began attacking people in a random, bloody rampage; in addition to killing Force, he wounded about 10 others, including two Palestinians. The attack took place as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in the area meeting with Israeli leaders. (The U.S. is Israel’s main enabler, giving it $10 million per day and frequently blocking international attempts to force it to obey international law.)
Israeli police eventually captured Masalha, then while he was subdued and lying on the ground, an Israeli volunteer policeman shot and killed him. The incident was caught on video. An Israeli newspaper reports:
In the video footage, bystanders can be heard telling the volunteer things like ‘Give it to him in the head, don’t be afraid, give it to him in the head. Good, you’re a king.’ A policeman is then heard telling his superiors over the radio, ‘I’ve neutralized him.’ But the bystanders continue egging the volunteer on: ‘Son of a bitch! … Give it to him in the head.’
At that point, at least one shot is heard, apparently fired by the volunteer. That shot is suspected of causing Masalha’s death.
Afterward, the bystanders praise the person who fired it. But then the other policeman can be heard saying, ‘Yossi, enough! He’s lying there neutralized. What are you doing firing for no reason?’ One civilian can also be heard urging the police to stop shooting.
The footage leaves no doubt that Masalha no longer posed any threat, and that he was alive for several minutes while the policeman and volunteer stood over him with guns drawn.
While such an action is officially categorized as a war crime, it does not appear that Israel has punished the perpetrator or even investigated the incident.
Israeli soldiers quickly sealed off the entire village of Hajja, and rounded up Masalha’s mother, father, four brothers, and a cousin the next day.
A few months later, Israeli soldiers, accompanied by armored bulldozers, invaded the village again. They surrounded the Masalha home, which housed nine people: in addition to his parents, Masalha’s brother lived with his wife and their two children on the first floor, while another brother lived on the third floor with his wife and child.
There is no indication—and Israel does not claim—that family members knew of or were involved in Masalha’s crazed attack. Family members say they had no knowledge of his plans. Masalha had had been living in Israel.
The soldiers forced everyone out and then demolished the home, leaving the family homeless. Israel is prohibiting the family from rebuilding for five years. Such actions are “collective punishment,” and are illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
The same day, Israeli troops shot and killed a 15-year-old boy and wounded four others in another West Bank village in what Israeli officials said afterward was an accident.
An American who visited Masalha’s village a week after the demolition wrote:
Their tiny, dusty village of about 2,000 people called Hajjah is a miserable remnant of an historic village. The roads and many of the buildings are in serious disrepair, an open garbage dump is situated at the edge of town, and the most beautiful structure is a small gold-domed mosque. There is a clear view of the mosque’s roof from the second floor of the Masalha family building — where an external wall of Bashar’s home once stood.
The village is near the city of Qalqiliya, which is surrounded by a 25-foot high concrete wall (referred to as the “Apartheid Wall” or “Annexation Wall” by some) that Israel has constructed on confiscated Palestinian land. This has largely imprisoned the inhabitants, choking them off from the rest of the world, as a single gate controlled by the occupying Israeli army controls the movement of its 100,000 residents. Israel periodically confiscates additional land in the area.
Gerber & others assist Force’s family
Israel and its partisans quickly reached out to Force’s grief-stricken parents. It is hard to think of anything more excruciatingly and enduringly painful than the loss of one’s child, particularly through murder.
The Israel Project, a $7 million American nonprofit founded “to secure Israel’s future,” organized a memorial service for Force at the site of his murder. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy and members of the Israeli Scouts paid tribute to Force. Israeli Scouts presented his bereaved parents with a framed Israeli Scout uniform and awarded a Badge of Honor posthumously to their son.
The U.S. deputy chief of mission said that Force’s murder “helped build a connection between the people of the United States and the people of Israel,” a statement he made on several occasions.
The Israeli government also held a moving memorial honoring Force. A letter from Force’s grateful family said: “Please convey our deepest appreciation to the Israeli people and government who have been so compassionate and thoughtful during the worst moment of our lives.”
Gerber reaches out to Force’s parents
Sander Gerber was another who quickly befriended the grieving parents. The Force family’s local newspaper, the Charlotte, South Carolina Post and Courier wrote: “Gerber reached out to the Forces, sending them materials and offering to help in any way he could.”
The article quotes Force’s mother: “Like the American public, we were not educated until something happened, and we started getting bits of information coming in.”
Gerber supplied many of the “bits of information.” He told them he had discovered that the Palestinian Authority “incentivized terror” by providing money to families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel, including to the family of the man who had killed their son.
At some point, Gerber had studied the Palestinian Authority budget and discovered the disbursements described above.
Gerber came up with a catchy slogan for the financial assistance, calling it a “pay to slay” program, but failed to mention that governmental assistance to families of fallen combatants and to impoverished families is a common practice among many governments. Nor did he mention that Israel had destroyed the Masalha’ parents’ home, a frequent Israeli action against family members innocent of any crime.
It’s unclear when or why Gerber decided to investigate the P.A. budget. Perhaps, given his financial background, he decided to do this on his own. Or It may have been suggested by someone else, such as the person who became his partner on the project, Israeli General Yossi Kuperwasser.
General Yossi Kuperwasser
Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser is a former Israeli senior military intelligence officer. He had been the Intelligence Officer of the IDF Central Command from 1998-2001, and then head of the Analysis and Production Division of the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence until 2001. According to his bio he shared his analysis with Americans.
All Gerber says on the subject is that he decided to examine the P.A. budget, and that since it’s in Arabic he brought in the Israeli general to translate it for him. He doesn’t explain how or why this transpired, or why he engaged a top general rather than a professional translator, which would be a more normal course of action.
Gerber and General Kuperwasser then authored a report that was published by a major Israeli institute, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), which focuses on Israeli security. The head of JCPA is Dore Gold, an American raised in Connecticut who moved to Israel after college. Gold, who has been close to Israeli hardliners Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, has held a number of high governmental posts, including Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. JCPA staffers assisted in researching and writing the report. Gerber is now a JCPA fellow.
The Post and Courier reports that around the same time the Force family was learning from Gerber about the events that led to their son’s death, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) was also learning about the incident from Gerber. The Gerber-Kupperwasser-JCPA report was given to Graham and others.
“At some point,” the paper reports, “someone made the connection that the Forces were Graham’s constituents and in a position to be of assistance.”
Gerber says that billionaire Haim Saban was “instrumental” in gaining bipartisan support for the bill, considered crucial in getting it passed. Saban, an Israeli-American, is a major donor to Democratic politicians. He is known for his devotion to Israel, once saying: “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
The progressive magazine Mother Jones reports that Saban has outlined a “three-pronged approach for influencing American politics: fund political campaigns, bankroll think tanks, and control the media.”
The bill eventually gained the desired bipartisan sponsorship with the endorsement of Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which analysts say assures Senate passage. Schumer has previously announced: “For as long as I live, for as long as I have the privilege of serving in the Senate from New York, I will unflinchingly, unstintingly and with all of my strength be Shomer Yisrael, a guardian of Israel.” (Video here.)
When Senator Graham unveiled the legislation, he announced: “We are here to let the Force family know their son did not die in vain.”
Still others came in to assist the bereaved parents.
There is a website dedicated to their son through which people may plant a tree in Israel in his honor. According to the site, “Not far from where he was murdered, in Tel Aviv, land has been slated to become ‘The Taylor Force Orchard.'” The website has a video of Taylor’s father endorsing the project.
The website, Trees4Taylor.org, announces: “Your Congregation or Organization can have their own Grove of 100 trees in the ‘Taylor Force Orchard’. A sign will be installed at the Grove with your name and logo. We will then mail you a photo of the sign and Grove which you can frame and proudly display.”
There are incentives. If you pay for four trees, you are promised a “classic gold and silver filled Star of David Necklace” to “display your love for Israel.” Ten trees gets you a “Land of Israel Necklace,” and 50 trees and more gets you an Olive Tree Menorah.
According to the site, “Donations for planting trees is tax deductible in the USA. We’re a registered non profit organization Tax ID 11-3321933.” Another site, IsraelTrees.org has the same format, awards, and US tax ID number. It turns out that TreesforTaylor is actually a project of the extremist organization Zo Artzeinu.
Sackett, originally American, was a member of the violent Jewish Defense League. He followed JDL’s founder Rabbi Meier Kahane to Israel, where Kahane created the Kach party, which Israel eventually outlawed as a terrorist organization (it’s also listed as a terrorist organization by the United States). Sackett is currently director of Kach International on U.S. college campuses.
Co-founder Moshe Feiglin is similarly problematic. He is considered extremist even by Israel’s right-wing Likud party, and an Israeli poller reports that Feign is viewed as “almost toxic.”
The U.S. tax umbrella for their organization is “Friends of Zo Artzeinu,” located in Cedarhurst, New York. Its budget is in the $1 million–$2 million range, with Shmuel Sackett compensated $20,000 for an hour of work a week.
Its tree-planting activities are less benign than they may appear on the IsraelTrees website. Some are in extremist settler outposts considered illegal even by the Israeli government.
The price of planting trees seem reasonable; $45 for one, three for $135, 100 for $3,000. However, it appears this is substantially above the going rate. One company charges $18 for one tree, three for $50, and $1,000 for 100. Still another offers 100 trees for $500.
Tree planting programs have been subject to various criticisms. For example, the New York Times reports:
“The tree-planting ritual, a deeply rooted phenomenon in the culture of the Jewish diaspora, has long been the subject of satirists. A well-known Israeli film, “Salah Shabati,” features a scene in which the dedication plaque at the entrance to a forest is changed when one group of American Jewish benefactors leaves and another arrives to see “their” trees.
Not surprisingly, the tree-planting websites do not mention that the Israeli government seems to have a love-hate relationship with trees, depending on whose trees they are.
Israeli authorities and settlers have destroyed over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees since 1967. Some were destroyed to make way for the wall/electrified fence that snakes in and around much of the West Bank. Others were hacked down to make way for new settlements, still others have been destroyed as part of Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinians whose land they want.
In some cases, ancient, valuable trees have been uprooted and planted in Israel. Some Palestinian olive trees are centuries old, some dating back to the time of the Crusades.
Lawsuits and media outreach
Another group assisting the Force family is the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, which is representing the family.
Shurat HaDin has filed numerous lawsuits in the U.S. on behalf of Israel. It is the recipient of the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reports: “Many of the charges are frivolous and only intended to advance foreign political interests through exploitation of the U.S. judiciary system. The suits frequently accomplish little beyond tying up American courtrooms.”
Still another of those who have stepped forward to help the Forces is political consultant and writer Noah Pollak.
Pollak’s bio says he’s a “political writer on foreign policy, Israel, and the Jewish people.” Pollak has written for Commentary, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and appeared on Fox News, PBS Newshour, and CNN.
Pollak is also executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a neoconservative political advocacy organization whose board members include neocons William Kristol and Rachel Abrams, wife of Elliott Abrams.
Gerber and Pollak have worked, with considerable success, to get media attention for the legislation.
For example, Gerber approached Thane Rosenbaum of the NYU Law School to write an article endorsing the legislation. Rosenbaum’s op-ed appeared in the Washington Post.
It was somewhat ironic that Rosenbaum supported the legislation, given that he had previously argued that Israel is justified in killing civilians. This is the same argument that might have been made in reverse by Bashar Masalha.
All in all, Gerber’s campaign to promote legislation to cut off money to Palestinians was extraordinarily successful.
Jewish Week reports: “A Washington insider, who requested to speak off the record for political reasons, said it was ‘very unusual’ that a political outsider like Gerber was able to bring the legislation to prominence. ‘Without Sander Gerber, this wouldn’t have happened.’”
Americans killed by Israel
It’s illuminating to compare the reaction to the killing of Taylor Force by a Palestinian to the killing of other Americans by Israelis.
Eyewitnesses report that an Israeli soldier intentionally killed American Rachel Corrie, 23 years old, in 2003. She was sitting in front of a Palestinian’s pharmacist’s home to try to prevent it from being demolished. A soldier ran over her twice with a two-story-high bulldozer. (The pharmacist’s family was not accused of terrorism; Israel just wanted their land.)
In 1967 Israeli air and sea forces attacked a US Navy ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34 American servicemen and injuring over 170. They tried to sink the ship with all men aboard; lifeboats were destroyed and stretcher bearers shot.
In neither case was any legislation introduced on their behalf. In fact, in the year following each attack U.S. aid to Israel went up even higher.
The difference is that the Israel lobby is massive and embedded throughout the United States. While Americans of diverse ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds (including many Jewish Americans) have tried to create a counter-lobby, the scale of the two is comparable to an elephant and a gnat.
What will Congress do?
To be fair and somewhat consistent, Congress would either end aid to both the Israeli government (which gets over $10 million per day) and to the Palestinian Authority (which gets about 8 percent of what Israel receives) – especially since both have been beset by corruption – or it would leave all aid in place.
While aid to Israel is virtually never questioned in Congress or the mainstream media, there are Indications that the American public is not pleased with the current situation. A 2016 survey found that 80 percent of Americans would divert aid to Israel to other priorities; many surveys find that most Americans don’t want the U.S. to take sides on the conflict.
But AIPAC and Israel are both now backing the Taylor Force Act, which gives it a high likelihood of success. Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. says: “Israel will be concerned if the Taylor Force Act doesn’t pass.”
Originally, there had been dissension about the act within the Israel lobby and Israel itself. AIPAC and others objected that the bill might actually hurt Israel. Ha’aretz reported: “A vast percentage of the PA’s budget goes to the Palestinian security agencies, which coordinate with the Israeli military to prevent terror attacks. Israel has an interest to continue this coordination, so a halt on funding to the PA could put it in danger. Israeli officials also worry that the PA could one day collapse and Israel would have to assume responsibility for the daily lives of over 2 million Palestinians.”
However, once the proposed legislation was modified to address these concerns, the Act received support from the full lobby. Some Israeli leaders and partisans may still be lukewarm to the bill, however, since much of the U.S. aid to Palestinians is actually helpful to Israeli control of the West Bank, and pro-Israel analysts don’t want to risk destabilizing it.
Ultimately, the test will be whether Israel and its lobby decide they desire this legislation. If so, they’re likely to get it.
For many years pro-Israel donors and operatives have been calling the shots on U.S. policies. While the Israel lobby is sometimes split on issues and not always successful, Israel partisans get what they want probably at least 90 percent of the time – and politicians understand percentages.
I’ve written about how this situation was created beginning in the late 1800s, former Republican Congressman Paul Findley described it in his 1985 book They Dare to Speak Out, writer Edward Tivnan detailed it in his 1988 book The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy, and Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt exposed it in their 2008 book The Israel Lobby.
The Taylor Force Act is just one in a long line of of U.S. bills designed and promoted on behalf of a foreign country.
Taylor Force’s death is deeply sad on all levels—including the fact that it is now being used to advance the interests of a violent, ethnocratic regime that is antithetical to the interests and principles of his fellow citizens.
As an Eagle Scout, Force would have learned about international law and diverse organizations, including Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and the American Civil Liberties Union; the ideals imparted to him would have included perhaps old-fashioned but nevertheless impressive principles of behavior.
If his tragic death is to serve anything, it might be appropriate for it to serve those principles, rather than the ambitions of unworthy politicians and individuals with questionable agendas.
Sept 6: the Committee for Israel began running a TV attack ad against at Sen. Cory Booker for voting against the Taylor Force Act. Booker has a long record of supporting Israel. The ad is “airing in New York and Philadelphia television markets on Wednesday evening during the Major League Baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets.” – The Hill and Politico [It appears that the “Committee for Israel” is a new name for Pollak’s Emergency Committee for Israel.]
Sept 7: Noah Pollak on Twitter reports that the bill was: “Just added to Senate foreign ops. Can now be passed via floor vote or December spending package. Belt & suspenders.”
Manger may refer to Austin T. Manger, Field Representative/Policy Advisor, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
Sept 8: Jewish Insider reports that the legislation has been modified still more to ensure that it doesn’t hurt Israel, and Booker has now endorsed it. It will likely be part of the Appropriations bill so that it can go through without debate.
*The NSA wiretap caught Harman reportedly agreeing to lobby the Justice Department to drop criminal charges against two AIPAC employees indicted for espionage on behalf of Israel. In return, the individual was to help Harman become Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman eluded prosecution, the expected full investigation never happened, and Harman’s allegedly subversive actions have largely dropped from sight. Despite this incident, she is a member of the Defense Policy Board, the State Department Foreign Affairs Policy Board, the Director of National Intelligence’s Senior Advisory Group, and the Homeland Security Advisory Council. She was a member of the CIA External Advisory Board from 2011 to 2013.)
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel. For a personal note on this article go here.
Additional photos of people mentioned in this article: