As Israel Seeks Deradicalization for Post-War Gaza, Millions of American Dollars Flow to Group Led by Extremist Rapper 

Taxpayer dollars are being dispursed through a fund named for a former New York congresswoman, Nita Lowey, to support Palestinian Arab causes.

AP/Ohad Zwigenberg, file
Israeli troops move near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, March 4, 2024. AP/Ohad Zwigenberg, file

As Israel’s prime minister stresses “deradicalization” as one of the central pillars of the country’s strategy for post-war Gaza, questions are emerging about the role of America in funding projects with extremist elements, and lacking sufficient vetting.

Raising the alarm is Itamar Marcus, the director of Palestinian Media Watch, a group that monitors Palestinian Arab society and culture for extremism and support for terrorism. “The United States should be using its money to fight radicalization, and not to intensify it,” Mr. Marcus tells the Sun.

The centrality of deradicalization to Israel’s vision for Gaza was outlined by Prime Minister Netanyahu in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in December and reiterated last week in a Fox News interview

“Gaza will have to be deradicalized,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote. “Schools must teach children to cherish life rather than death, and imams must cease to preach for the murder of Jews. Palestinian civil society needs to be transformed so that its people support fighting terrorism rather than funding it.”

At issue for Mr. Marcus is a charity innocuously called Tomorrow’s Youth Organization. The group is using millions of dollars from a fund named for a former New York congresswoman, Nita Lowey, to support Palestinian Arab causes even as that organization’s executive director does double duty as a rapper who glorifies illicit drug use and hatred of Israel.

In December 2020 Congress passed the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. America’s major civilian foreign aid agency, Usaid, is tasked with doling out the $250 million fund, in coordination with the Department of State, for cultural “dialogue” efforts it deems worthy. Prominent among them is Tomorrow’s Youth, whose executive director, Raffoul Saadeh, writes and performs rap songs under the name LXIV 64.

One such ditty is “Scars of Gaza,” which contains the lyrics, “Auschwitz reincarnated brought back to life by the victims who were burned by the Nazis.” According to Mr. Saadeh’s Facebook page, a video for the song, which ends with a call for violence, was posted to YouTube in May 2021, but has subsequently been removed. 

Federal records show that in 2022, Usaid committed nearly $3.3 million to Tomorrow’s Youth, whose flagship office is situated at what it refers to as “Nablus, Palestine.” 

Mr. Saadeh’s lyrics are bristling with other spurious and defamatory references to Israel — another video, according to PMW, is “one continuous demonization with lies and libels against Israel with yet another Holocaust comparison.” The video for the  song “From the Ghetto,” which also demonizes Israel, was seemingly scrubbed from YouTube following a PMW report mentioning it last March.

Mr. Saadeh “writes and sings rap songs about Palestinian issues in which he compares Israel to Nazis and his life in Jerusalem to being caged in a ghetto,” PMW states, adding that “he also writes love songs, including Snow White, in which he presents the use of illegal drugs and gun violence as normal behavior.”

How all this squares with Tomorrow’s Youth’s stated aims of “implementing specific mental health, psychosocial and educational interventions and programming” for Palestinian Arab youth is not addressed in the Usaid-funded group’s literature.Mr. Saadeh as well as Ms. Lowey did not respond to the Sun’s requests for comment. It is unclear if Ms. Lowey believes that directly or indirectly underwriting hate speech “builds the foundation for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians” as the fund enacted in her name is supposed to do.

Mr. Saadeh, for his part, describes himself on his LinkedIn profile as someone with “vast experience in Palestine and Lebanon” and cites as assets his “personal and professional relationships with NGOs and donors.”  

Mr. Saadeh’s songs, which are available on various public music platforms and are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, “demonize Israelis and normalize the use of guns,” Mr. Marcus says. His concern, he tells the Sun, is that as “a successful rapper he naturally is a role model for youth” who are exposed to his “hate and normalization of violence.” 

Is there any oversight mechanism in place to monitor how the group under Mr. Saadeh’s stewardship spends the hundreds of thousands of dollars Americans are sending it? In response to a query from the Sun, a Usaid representative would say only that it takes precautions.

“We take,” the spokesman says, “every precaution to safeguard all U.S. taxpayer supported assistance for its intended purpose and to support Palestinian civilians directly. Usaid’s work with Tomorrow’s Youth Organization is specifically to support over two hundred women entrepreneurs and dozens of women-led small businesses, while fostering coexistence and reconciliation within and across communities.”

The record, though, shows that of the more than $3 million already spent, none of the money went to Jewish Israeli or Arab Israeli youths’ communities — it all flowed to the “West Bank.”

The “radicalization of Palestinian youth, through the demonization of Israelis,” Mr. Marcus says, “plays a major role in inciting Palestinian youth to see terror including killing Israelis as a worthy option.” This impact, he says, is also tied to the horror of the October 7 attacks on southern Israel.

“There is no doubt that the decades of demonization of Israelis and glorifying of terror is what led to the Hamas terror atrocities,” of that day “and the Palestinian population’s overwhelming support for the attack.”

Usaid would not disclose what monitoring, if any, there is of the use of its funds. Another wrinkle is that in some cases, as with Tomorrow’s Youth, funds committed are invariably mixed in with monies from the Qatar Fund for Development to support “various projects in the West Bank.” That Qatari money — lots if it — has also flowed into Hamas coffers in Gaza is one of the worst-kept secrets in the Middle East. 

Some of what Partnership for Peace Fund money does is support advisory board meetings during which members, not all of whom are American citizens, spend time thanking each other for efforts that are not clearly delineated. 

Examples of tangible achievement appear to be few; one such, described at a meeting last August, involved transporting  an 8-old-boy with cerebral palsy, along with his father, to Tel Aviv from Ramallah to “connect with Israeli and Palestinian engineers and designers” and to go for a swim using an adaptive surfboard. The cost of a private taxi to Tel Aviv from Nablus is a relatively inexpensive $170. 

The $250 million is meant to be spent over the course of five years.

Usaid’s administrator, Samantha Power, recently stated that “in addition to getting more assistance into Gaza, more must be done to protect aid workers putting their lives on the line to deliver that assistance.” Ms. Power, who served as America’s ambassador to the UN under President Obama, made no mention of the suffering that Gazans have brought to bear on Israeli civilians as well as soldiers on and since the October 7 attacks. 

Usaid, according to its own website, now prioritizes “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

With an annual budget of $27 billion, money is less of an issue for the agency than how and where it is being spent. The junior senator of Indiana, James  Risch, last year questioned Ms. Power at a hearing on a Usaid budget request related to famine — or “food insecurity,” as it’s known at Washington — in Ethiopia. Mr. Risch now heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The Sun has reached out to Mr. Risch for comment about growing speculation that the Partnership for Peace funds are ending up partly in some sullied hands.

In January, several Western countries including America suspended funds from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the world body’s agency for serving Palestinian refugees, after it emerged that hundreds of the group’s employees were members of terror groups. Some of them actively participated in the attacks on October 7. Much of the funding, including from the European Union, has already been restored.

“At a time when hate, violence, and terror by Palestinians is something the United States is trying to eliminate,” Mr. Marcus concludes, it is “unimaginable” that America should be funding an “organization headed by an individual whose public image is promoting the problems that the United States is trying to overcome.”

The New York Sun

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