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TikTok investor Jeff Yass wants to shape US foreign policy too

TikTok investor Jeff Yass wants to shape US foreign policy too

The GOP mega-donor has been quietly sending millions to anti-Muslim orgs and hawkish pro-Israel groups

Reporting | Washington Politics

This article was co-published with the Guardian.

Top Republican donor and TikTok investor Jeff Yass is connected to over $16 million in funding to anti-Muslim and pro-Israel groups that have advocated for a U.S. war with Iran and other militaristic policies in the Middle East, according to an investigation by the Guardian and Responsible Statecraft.

Media reports on Yass, the billionaire co-founder of Susquehanna International Group, a trading and technology firm, have focused on his outsized role in the Republican Party, to which he is now the largest political donor in the 2024 election cycle, contributing more than $46 million thus far.

Yass has also emerged as the biggest funder of a group targeting progressive representative Summer Lee (Pa.) in her primary race, suggesting an interest in influencing Democratic primary outcomes, not just in boosting Republicans.

But little has been reported about his involvement in funding groups advocating a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy, hawkish U.S. policies in the Middle East andsupport for theorists whom experts described as extreme anti-Muslim conspiracists.

Leading Yass’s philanthropy in the foreign policy space is $7.9 million contributed to Jerusalem Online University between 2014 and 2019 by a grant-making group at which he once served as one of three directors.

A Jewish Daily Forward investigation into the group in 2011 found that the website promotes itself as a source of educational materials about the Middle East and Israel, but the website’s actual message is far more biased, the Forward found.

“On its website and its promotional materials, Jerusalem Online U hardly portrays itself as a center for neutral academic inquiry,” the Forward wrote. “In fact, it boasts an explicitly pro-Israel mission that seems distinctly at odds with academic principles. In one advertisement for its services, the Jerusalem Online U site’s blog features a video of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling Congress last May that ‘Israel is what is right’ about the Middle East. The words ‘Be a Part of What’s Right’ appear on screen as he speaks.”

The contributions came from the Claws Foundation, an entity at which Yass served as a director alongside Arthur Dantchik, a co-founder of Susquehanna and attorney Alan P Dye. Dye did not return calls for comment.The Kids Connect Charitable Fund — which does not list Yass or Dantchik as directors but listed the Claws Foundation as a “related tax-exempt organization” in an IRS filing and was identified as an arm of both men’s philanthropy by Haaretz — contributed another $3.48 million to Jerusalem Online University’s parent organization, Imagination Productions.

The Claws Foundation also issued a $10,000 grant to Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in 2011 and $35,000 in grants, between 2010 and 2011, to the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim and conspiracy theory-promoting group founded by Frank Gaffney, whom the Southern Policy Law Center describes as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes” and the Anti-Defamation League describes as a chief promulgator of the conspiracy theory “that the US government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and that a number of political figures have actual ties to the group.” The Center for Security Policy vice-president, Clare Lopez, has said: “When Muslims follow their doctrine they become jihadists.”

In 2013 to 2014, the Claws Foundation sent $250,000 to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, another central promoter of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Horowitz, whom the group is named after and who serves as its president, once complained that Muslims are a “protected species in this country” and said he’s “wait[ing] for the day when the good Muslims step forward,” at a Brooklyn College event in 2011.

“The fact Yass is donating to Gaffney and Horowitz’s organizations shows how extreme his politics are,” said Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesperson under President Obama. “They are beyond Trump. They are OG conspiracy theorists. Gaffney in particular.”

The Claws Foundation also donated $100,000 to the Central Fund of Israel in 2014, a group that the New York Times described as a “clearinghouse” for settlement development in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“The Claws Foundation has contributed more than $300 million, overwhelmingly to children’s hospitals, adult healthcare, education and the arts in the United States, and has never sought to influence U.S. foreign policy,” said a spokesperson for Yass and Dantchik. “Moreover, $31 million of Claws contributions went to the Shalom Hartman Institute, one of whose important apolitical initiatives is building bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities. Focusing on a few de minimis contributions promotes a false narrative that fits a biased agenda.”

Yass’s philanthropy also appears to bring Yass into close contact with efforts to influence U.S.-Israel and U.S.-Iran relations via advocacy and lobbying campaigns. A non-profit group, QXZ Inc, is the largest identifiable source of funding for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) efforts to obstruct the White House’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran during Barack Obama’s second presidential term.

In 2015, QXZ Inc contributed $1.5 million to Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, AIPAC’s advocacy group opposing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security council plus Germany and Iran to impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Iran receiving some relief from nuclear-related sanctions.

Vietor was dismissive of AIPAC’s work opposing the Obama-era JCPOA but suggested that electing and influencing Trump became a goal of some Iran-deal opponents.

“[Funders of the anti-JCPOA campaign] lit that money on fire in 2015. They were incapable of beating Obama politically in terms of defeating the JCPOA in Congress so they changed tactics and went all in for Trump,” said Vietor. “Trump chose to pull out of the JCPOA despite many of his advisers saying it would be a disaster and it has been. Iran is closer than ever to getting a nuclear weapon.”

Yass’s ties to a group providing significant financial support to AIPAC’s effort were unreported until now. QXZ’s links to Yass were revealed when Strong Economy for Growth, a Massachusetts-based group, spent $1.2 million supporting a failed 2016 ballot question regarding lifting caps on charter schools. State campaign finance officials required the group to disclose the identity of its donors. Yass, via QXZ, was the largest funder of Strong Economy for Growth.

QXZ’s involvement in well-concealed funding of foreign policy advocacy continued in 2015 with a $250,000 contribution to neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a group that ran ads attacking Obama as “caving to Iran” with the JCPOA.

The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck profiled the group’s strategies and reported that the ECI “sought to intimidate critics of Netanyahu, and Israel’s most powerful American backers, for the escalating drive to war with Iran, and to damage Obama.”

Underscoring QXZ’s commitment to the most militaristic and pro-Israel wings of the Republican party, the group contributed $1.05 million between 2018 and 2019 to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a club of hawkishly pro-Israel megadonors.

A spokesperson for Yass did not comment on Yass’s ties to QXZ but denied Yass’s involvement in donations to the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition or Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran.

“Jeff Yass has never directed QXZ to fund any such groups and any statement otherwise is false,” said the spokesperson.

Yass has said nothing about his foreign policy agenda in public remarks but the timeline of his meeting with Trump and Trump’s subsequent reversal of his position on banning TikTok offers an early indication that Yass may already be an influential figure for the Republican nominee for the presidency.

Trump has a track record of shifting positions on Israel and Iran to align with political megadonors. Only after securing the nomination in 2016 did Trump pivot to more militaristic positions in the Middle East — committing to withdrawing the U.S. from the JCPOA, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and supporting an unconditionally pro-Israel U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — positions in lockstep with his biggest political patrons in the general election, the late Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

Yass’s spokesperson denied that Yass seeks influence with Trump on foreign policy matters.

“Jeff Yass has never discussed foreign policy with Donald Trump, has never contributed to Mr. Trump and has no plans to do so,” said the spokesperson. “Mr. Yass’s philanthropy is largely focused on school choice and has nothing to do with foreign policy.”

“As a libertarian, Jeff generally opposes American involvement in foreign affairs as evidenced by his support for Rand Paul and Thomas Massie,” the spokesperson said.

screengrab via https://www.youtube.com/@moreperfectunion

Reporting | Washington Politics
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