The Clarion Project (previously the "Clarion Fund") is a nonprofit organization led by U.S. neoconservatives and rightwing Israelis that produces alarmist films and publications aimed at hyping the threat of "Radical Islam."
Clarion's first three films—Obsession, Iranium, and The Third Jihad—received rave reviews from rightwing activists like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. However, many observers argue that the films employ anti-Islamic rhetoric and make misleading claims. As of early 2013, Clarion claimed to be working on a new film about "the cruel and often violent oppression of Muslim women."
Shortly after the 2013 Boston marathon bombings, Clarion's public relations firm, M. Sliwa Public Relations, issued a press release capitalizing on the attacks to promote the group's political agenda. Claiming that "jihadist ideology continues to motivate a sophisticated worldwide terror network and that America remains a target," the press release promoted Clarion's 2008 film, The Third Jihad, and offered up veteran neoconservative activists Richard Perle and Clare Lopez for interviews.
In its 2011 report Fear, Inc., the Center for American Progress identified Clarion as an important member of the "Islamophobia network," an informal grouping of prominent foundations, scholars, and opinion-makers that spreads negative impressions about Islam and Muslims in the United States. Indeed, the group's funding is replete with large contributions from major foundations identified in the report.
In addition to its film work, Clarion's website operates as a clearinghouse for anti-Islamic news and rhetoric. Formerly RadicalIslam.org, the site bills itself as the "#1 News Site on the Threat of Radical Islam." In addition to posting alarmist news alerts and analyses, the website hosts petitions and offers primers full of right-wing talking points on Islam, Iran, and Sharia law, among other issues.
Among its many questionable claims, the site asserts that "there are 35 Radical Islamic communities spread across the United States" and that the U.S. legal and financial systems have been infiltrated by "Stealth Jihad." In another post implying that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, a view not shared by the U.S. intelligence community, the site claims that the concept of mutually assured destruction, which kept a lid on U.S.-Soviet escalations during the Cold War, "is not sufficient to deter Iran from firing [a nuclear weapon] as Radical Muslims see martyrdom as the path to heaven and utter triumph." The post also claimed that "Iranian theologians have decreed that atomic weapons are permissible to use under Islamic law," even though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a binding fatwa against the use of such weapons.
Clarion claims that it does not intend to promote negative views of Muslims writ large; rather, it claims to focus only on those it deems "radical." A statement on the Clarion website makes a distinction between "Radical Islam and the majority of the Muslim population worldwide," and the film Obsession opens with the statement, "It's important to remember most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror. This is not a film about them."
However, the group seems to treat any "moderate" behavior by Muslims as an example of taqiyya, a medieval Islamic doctrine that Clarion and other Islamophobic groups interpret to mean "deceit" in the interest of furthering "sharia Islam." Articles posted on the Clarion Project claim variously that violent jihad "is obligatory for Muslims everywhere" and that "Islam not only permits its believers to lie but actually commands it in some circumstances."
Echoing arguments pushed by neoconservative-aligned groups in Europe, such as the Henry Jackson Society, Clarion cites the Muslim immigration as a global problem irrespective of religious or political ideology. In a post entitled "Eurabia," Clarion warned that "Muslims are rapidly immigrating to Europe" and "attempting to conform European society to their own ideals." It concluded, "Low birthrates among Europeans, and high birthrates among Muslim immigrants are quickly turning Europe into an extension of the Muslim world. … In fact, many experts believe that Europe is already lost."
A recent Clarion production was the 2011 film Iranium. Written and directed by the Israeli settler Alex Traiman, the film attempted to convey the purported Iranian threat by "by explor[ing] the principles of the [Iranian] revolution, and visually demonstrat[ing] the hatred and violence exhibited by Iran's brutal leadership."
According to a review of the film published by PBS Frontline's TehranBureau, among Iranium's core themes are "the belief that Middle Easterners respond only to shows of strength, and that, while Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have been weak on Iran, Ronald Reagan's supposed strength was respected in the region (with the exception, of course, of his withdrawal from Lebanon after the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks there were bombed in 1983)." The review, entitled "'Iranium' or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 'Military Option,'" adds: "After a long buildup describing Iran's desire to spread the Islamic Revolution abroad (such as through its alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez), the film describes the Iranian nuclear program. Iran's public avowals of the program's peaceful aims are dismissed, and the next section—titled 'Pushing the Button'—explains how the world won't be able to deter Iran from using a weapon."
According to the reviewers, the film's "partisan outlook should not come as a surprise: Most of the analysts interviewed in the film are drawn from two neoconservative Washington think tanks [the Center for Security Policy and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies] that have supported Republican policies and derided Democratic ones."
Material from Iranium was excerpted for viral video ad campaign in April 2012. Claiming that "everyone knows Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons," the ads offered support for a Israeli attack on Iran. According to Think Progress, the ads, produced by TheLandOfIsrael.com and promoted by conservative media outlets like Fox News, were "littered with factual errors, misleading half-truths, and comparisons between Iran and Nazi Germany."
Controversy over Obsession
Clarion received considerable media attention for its efforts to distribute millions of copies of the DVD version of the controversial short film Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West in September 2008, and for its role in producing the film The Third Jihad: Radical Islam's Vision for America, released in May 2009. Clarion's efforts to promote the films led to accusations that the group was violating its tax-exempt status and attempting "to stir up a climate of fear in the United States in the weeks before the presidential election."
Some 28 million DVDs of Obsession, called "hate propaganda" by some critics, were made available in newspaper inserts in several key swing states—including Florida, Ohio, and Michigan—during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election. The video, which attempts to make the case that "radical Islam" intends to "bow Western Civilization under the yoke of its values," was co-written by Raphael Shore, who founded the Clarion Project, and Wayne Kopping, who produced the 2003 video Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in Israel, a documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that focuses disproportionately on Arab hostilities. Several groups that support militarist Israeli and U.S. policies—including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Zionist Organization of America—sponsored showings of Relentless.
Obsession presents the views of a number of people associated with militarist or neoconservative political groups, including Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, Caroline Glick of the Center for Security Policy; Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism; and Brigitte Gabrielle, founder of American Congress for Truth and advisor to the Intelligence Summit.
After its initial 2005 release, showings of Obsession spurred heated debates regarding "Islamophobia" on U.S. college campuses, where the film was aggressively promoted by David Horowitz as part of his "terrorism awareness project." When copies of the DVD appeared in swing-state newspapers and mailings during the last months of the 2008 election season, some observers charged that Clarion and the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), which aided the distribution effort, were running a stealth campaign on behalf of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other Republican candidates who had made "battling the threat posed by radical Islamists a central platform of their campaign, while presenting their Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama [D-IL], as being weak on the issue."
When a small-town newspaper in Pennsylvania, the Patriot News, investigated the source of the DVD mailing, it discovered that Clarion's website had posted a partisan political report supporting the McCain campaign. The report stated, "McCain's policies seek to confront radical Islamic extremism and terrorism and roll it back while [Barack] Obama's, although intending to do the same, could in fact make the situation facing the West even worse." The site removed the report after the Patriot News reporter questioned Clarion's director of communications.
A spokesperson for EMET, described by the Inter Press Service as a "group of hard-line U.S. neo-conservatives and former Israeli diplomats," claimed its goal was to take advantage of the intense media attention in the swing states, not to influence the election.
According to the New York Times, Obsession served as a "flashpoint in the bitter campus debate over the Middle East, not just because of its clips from Arab television rarely shown in the West, including scenes of suicide bombers being recruited and inducted, but also because of its pro-Israel distribution network. When a Middle East discussion group organized a showing at New York University … it found that the distributors of Obsession were requiring those in attendance to register at IsraelActivism.com, and that digital pictures of the events be sent to Hasbara Fellowships, a group set up to counter anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses."
The Third Jihad
Clarion released The Third Jihad in May 2009. Since then, the film's website has changed its description of the film many times. At first, it claimed to explore a war that the "media is not telling you about" and reveal an enemy the "government is too afraid to name." In late September 2008, the film's website claimed the movie "focuses on an FBI-discovered secret document—the manifesto of the American Muslim Brotherhood. It describes the 'grand jihad' goal of destroying Western civilization from within by infiltrating and dominating North America. The film reveals the agenda of the radical Muslim leaders in America and provides viewers with an impressively crafted look at the immediate dangers posed."
The synopsis reminded one journalist of the infamous racist volume The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "Secret, recently uncovered documents. A 'goal of destroying Western civilization from within.' A grand conspiracy organized by a globally networked religious minority. Sound familiar yet? Could be because it's echoing one of the most influential and persistent conspiracy theories of all time, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion … [which] detailed the sinister Jewish plan for world domination," wrote reporter Eli Clifton.
The "experts" featured in The Third Jihad include Rachel Ehrenfeld of the American Center for Democracy; former CIA director James Woolsey; historian Bernard Lewis; Michael Ledeen and Walid Phares of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT); and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The film became the subject of controversy when it was revealed that it had been screened for an audience of New York Police Department officers, prompting NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, who was interviewed in the film, to apologize in January 2012.
Likud and Neocon Connections
Clarion was founded in 2006 by Raphael Shore, a conservative Israeli rabbi. Clarion's advisory board has included a number of neoconservatives and other militarist policy advocates, including Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy; Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum; Ilan Sharon of Minnesotans against Terrorism; Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) and narrator of the Clarion Fund's Third Jihad documentary; Clare Lopez, executive director of the Iran Policy Committee; Harold Rhode, a former staffer under Douglas Feith in the Donald Rumsfeld Pentagon who serves as an adviser to the Gatestone Institute; and Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET),which has assisted in the distribution of Clarionfilms.
Some critics have called Clarion Project a tool of Israel's rightist Likud Party because of its close association with many Likud figures and its espousal of views in line with the Israeli right wing. The group's implicit support for the U.S. Republican Party have exacerbated this criticism.
In late September 2008, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate whether Clarion was violating election laws, which prohibit foreign entities from funding campaigns. CAIR alleged that Clarion was "an Israel-based group seeking to help Sen. John McCain win the U.S. presidential election."
CAIR laid out its case in an official complaint to the FEC. "According to the website for the Secretary of State for New York, Clarion Fund Inc. is incorporated in New York as a Delaware based foreign not-for-profit corporation," the complaint reads. "According to the Delaware Department of Corporations, Robert (Rabbi Raphael) Shore, Rabbi Henry Harris and Rebecca Kabat incorporated Clarion Fund. All three of whom are reported to serve as employees of Aish HaTorah International, an organization apparently based in Israel. Also according to the Delaware Department of Corporations, the incorporators of the Clarion Fund used Aish HaTorah's New York City address … to incorporate Clarion Fund in Delaware. Sources have reported that Rabbi Raphael Shore is an Israeli citizen who lives in Jerusalem and was employed as an executive director with Aish HaTorah International. Gregory Ross has been identified as Clarion Fund's spokesman and communications director. According to the FEC candidate contributions database, Gregory Ross is a fundraiser for Aish HaTorah International. It was reported that distributors of 'Obsession' asked viewers to register for a screening of 'Obsession' by visiting an Aish HaTorah website. It appears that the funding for the production, marketing and distribution of 'Obsession' may have originated from Israel-based Aish HaTorah International."
Said CAIR executive director Nihad Awad, "American voters deserve to know whether they are the targets of a multimillion-dollar campaign funded and directed by a foreign group seeking to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as a way to influence the outcome of our presidential election."
The U.S. tax code clearly delineates the extent of participation of any non-profit organization in a political campaign: "Public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the [501(c)(3)] organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity." Thus, Clarion's direct or indirect participation in political campaigning would jeopardize its tax-exempt status. Given the content of the report posted (and later removed) at Clarion's RadicalIslam.org, the fund was liable to lose its tax status.
According to National Public Radio's Peter Overby and Will Evans, Clarion's tax filings "don't provide clues as to who funded the … distribution" of Obsession, although Clarion assured them it was exclusively bankrolled by U.S. donors. The reporters added, "We still don't know how closely Clarion is tied to Aish HaTorah, an international Jewish educational organization with offices in New York. Clarion's incorporation papers share the same address; the PR firm says that's no longer the case. But public filings list four directors of Clarion since its inception, and all four have ties to Aish HaTorah."
Subsequent investigative reports revealed close ties between Aish and the Clarion Fund, although as of late 2010 they no longer shared the same address. The Inter Press Service (IPS) reported that EMET, Clarion's Obsession distribution partner, has had ties to Likud and neoconservatives groups. According to IPS, EMET advisors include ambassadors Yossi Ben Aharon and Yoram Ettinger, who "were among the three Israeli ambassadors whom then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred to as 'the Three Musketeers' when they lobbied Washington in opposition to the Oslo accords."
Ettinger is a former chair at the Ariel Center for Policy Research, a Likud-aligned Israeli think tank. Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed another EMET advisor and former diplomat, Lenny Ben-David, to serve at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. According to IPS, "Ben-David had also held senior positions at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for 25 years and is now a consultant and lobbyist." In mid-September 2008, EMET sponsored a Capitol Hill "seminar series" named after the multibillionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a key donor of the now-defunct group Freedom's Watch and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which according to IPS has worked "to persuade Jewish voters that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is aligned with radical anti-Israel forces in the Islamic world."
IPS reported that U.S. neoconservatives who have advised EMET include the late Jeane Kirkpatrick; Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum; Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute; Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy; Woolsey; and Heritage Foundation fellows Ariel Cohen and Nina Shea.
A Right Web examination of tax records of U.S. charitable foundations revealed that during the period 2004-2009 Clarion received some $20 million from right-wing and "pro-Israel" foundations—including a stunning $18 million donation from the Donors Capital Fund in 2008, apparently to support the massive election-season distribution of the controversial film Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West. Other Clarion donors during this period included the Allen I. Gross Charitable Foundation, the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation, the William Rosenwald Fund, and the Becker Charitable Trust.
In 2010, Clarion reported a little over $1.1 million in total revenues.