Mon, Jul 08, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US duty-free magnates funding Israeli settlements

Businessman Simon Falic responded to questions about his charitable work in Israel saying: ‘It is unfortunate that a Jewish family dedicated to this cause is newsworthy’

By Uri Blau and Josef Federman  /  AP, HEBRON, West Bank

Illustration: Yusha

When travelers shop at dozens of duty-free stores at airports worldwide, they might be paying for more than a bottle of vodka or a box of chocolates.

The Falic family of Florida, owners of the ubiquitous chain of Duty Free Americas shops, funds a generous and sometimes controversial philanthropic empire in Israel that runs through the corridors of power and stretches deep into the occupied West Bank.

An Associated Press investigation shows that the family has donated at least US$5.6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and east Jerusalem over the past decade, funding synagogues, schools and social services along with far-right causes considered extreme even in Israel.

The Falics support the ultranationalist Jewish community in Hebron, whose members include several prominent followers of a late rabbi banned from Israeli politics for his racist views and whose movement is outlawed by the US as a terrorist organization. They back Jewish groups that covertly buy up Palestinian properties in east Jerusalem and they helped fund an unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank.

They have supported groups that are pushing for the establishment of a Third Temple for Jews at the holiest and most contested site in the Holy Land. They also have given more money than any other donor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of settlements, and have donated to other leaders of his Likud party.

The Falics’ philanthropy is not limited to the settlements, and they support many mainstream causes in the US and Israel, such as hospitals, athletics and helping the needy.

However, they are a key example of how wealthy US donors have bolstered the contentious settlement movement.

“Far-right foreign donors are a pillar of the settlement enterprise,” said Brian Reeves, a spokesman for Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog group.

Most of the world considers Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be obstacles to peace that gobble up territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. The international community overwhelmingly believes the settlements violate international law, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own population into the territory it occupies.

However, Israel considers the territories “disputed,” and says the fate of the settlements should be determined through negotiations.

In a response to AP questions through his lawyer, Simon Falic, who spoke on behalf of the family, said Jews should be able to live anywhere in the Holy Land, whether it is Israel, Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem or the West Bank.

He condemned violence and said that none of the groups he supports do anything illegal under Israeli law.

“We are proud to support organizations that help promote Jewish life all over the Land of Israel,” Falic said. “The idea that the mere existence of Jewish life in any geographical area is an impediment to peace makes no sense to us.”

Since the capture of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, the settler population has grown to about 700,000 people, roughly 10 percent of Israel’s Jewish population. In recent years, it has received a boost from Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and from a far more tolerant attitude by US President Donald Trump, whose top Middle East advisers are longtime settlement supporters.

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