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Investigating the Link Between Disinformation of the FDD and Its Leaders’ Support of Israel

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
15th January 2024
Investigating the Link Between Disinformation of the FDD and Its Leaders’ Support of Israel
The FDD aligns with Israeli right-wing views (Getty)

Misbar has kept a close eye on the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) since the outbreak of the War on Gaza. The FDD, ironically, is meant to combat the very type of disinformation it propagates. 

For example, on October 15, 2023, the FDD published the misleading narrative about the killing of babies on October 7. On November 14, the CEO of the FDD talked about the presence of the headquarter of Hamas under Al-Shifa Hospital, which Misbar proved to be false.

On December 6, 2023, the FDD promoted the unsubstantiated allegations about the rape of women on October 7 by Hamas.

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What Is the Foundation for Defense of Democracies?

The FDD is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute based in Washington, DC, focusing on foreign policy and national security. According to its website, it conducts "in-depth research, produces accurate, and timely analyses." This appears to be incorrect, as the foundation has adopted misleading and false narratives to support Israel

The importance of FDD lies in its role in providing insights and policy recommendations to help strengthen national security, address critical national security challenges, and offer consultation to the White House.

The foundation collaborates with and seeks counsel from a range of distinguished advisors and houses four centers on American power, including the Center on Military and Political Power, the Center on Economic and Financial Power, the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation, and the Center of Media Integrity. 

The Foundation’s Leaders Support Israel

Despite his expertise in misinformation and extensive journalistic background, Clifford D. May, founder and president of FDD, is involved in spreading misleading and false information about the Gaza war

May is a veteran news reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor, with a long and distinguished career in international relations, journalism, communications, and politics.

Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the foundation, also made statements about the headquarter of Hamas under Al-Shifa Hospital.

Misbar found that both Clifford D. May and Mark Dubowitz are long-time supporters of Israel, each involved in numerous Israeli research centers and newspapers like Jewish News Syndicate, Israel Hayom, Jewish Miami, and Sapir Journal which defines itself as "A quarterly journal of ideas for a thriving Jewish future."

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The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a major supporter of several pro-Israel and hawkish organizations and funds them like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and others in 2023, especially after Octobar 7, that have faced criticism for bias or association with specific individuals. 

The Schusterman Foundation has also been a significant contributor to conservative causes in the U.S. for years and has ties to AIPAC through its donations to AIEF, an AIPAC-affiliated charitable organization, according to the intercept. 

Misbar was able to uncover 3 of the organization’s researchers who were working in AIPAC or are still working in it. 

David May: Research Manager and Senior Research Analyst of FDD was a senior research analyst at AIPAC where he focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues and the United Nations.

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Joshua Adams: the Congressional Fellow in FDD worked as a senior development fellow in AIPAC from July 2019 to January 2022.

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Yael Shamouilian: Yael was a senior research analyst for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and worked on congressional campaigns at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). 

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Additionally, Clifford D. May has been involved in various discussions, podcasts, and analyses related to Israel and the Middle East, and he has spoken at events organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

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Track Record of Purposeful Obfuscation From the Outset

As a result of this investigation, we found that FDD was established in April 2001 under the name (EMET), which means "truth" in Hebrew, with the aim of educating and improving Israel's image in North America and enhancing the public's understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations. 

On the other hand, Misbar found that Clifford May quickly advocated for military action, describing Iran and Iraq as "terrorist-sponsoring regimes attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction" in April 2002, which was a lie. 

According to this investigation, FDD has been associated with individuals who have focused on defending Israel, and some of its key staff have ties to pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and this is not from October 7 but before that from the establishment of the foundation. 

In January 2002, Clifford May asserted that there was little doubt that Saddam still possessed weapons of mass destruction. Both articles are no longer accessible on FDD's website, which we retrieved from archived internet versions, although they can be found on other sites. FDD not only served as a hub for numerous advocates of the Iraq War but also adopted institutional positions that promoted false intelligence regarding Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. 

The FDD is Funded by Israel Supporters

According to Slate, the FDD has focused its research and advocacy on the Middle East, particularly on issues affecting Israel. Its positions have closely aligned with those of the Likud party and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Understanding the think tank's ideological affinity with the Israeli government and the origins of that affinity is key to explaining FDD's significant role in opposing the war on Gaza and publishing the fake news to support Israel at the present time and since the establishment of the foundation. 

The FDD was established with the stated mission "to promote pluralism, defend democratic values, and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism." However, as noted by journalist Ali Gharib, it originated from an organization dedicated to enhancing Israel's reputation in the United States. 

The foundation has received the majority of its funding from American Jews with a history of supporting pro-Israel organizations. Some of the prominent funders include Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, whiskey heirs Samuel and Edgar Bronfman, gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, heiress Lynn Schusterman, Wall Street speculators Michael Steinhardt and Paul Singer, and Leonard Abramson. 

From 2008 to 2011, the largest contributors were Abramson, Marcus, Adelson, Singer, and businessman Newton Becker. While some of FDD's donors have supported a wide range of groups backing Israel, others, such as Marcus, Adelson, Becker, and their foundations, have also contributed to organizations aligned with Israeli right-wing nationalists favoring a "greater Israel" that includes East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements. The organization's ties to these donors, particularly in its early years, reflect its close association with individuals and groups supportive of Israel's interests.

Much of the key personnel were recruited from individuals who have dedicated their work to defending Israel from its critics. For instance, in FDD's early years, Nir Boms, an Israeli who had worked for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, served as Clifford May's second in command. Additionally, Toby Dershowitz, who spent 14 years as the head of communications for AIPAC, has been responsible for handling communications for FDD. 

When questioned about his agreement with Sheldon Adelson's positions on Palestinian statehood, Clifford May stated that Adelson had not contributed to FDD for a while and that he was not updated on Adelson's views. However, in a July 2012 article in National Review, May defended Adelson's opposition to a Palestinian state.

Furthermore, Jonathan Schanzer, the FDD’s vice president for research, previously worked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which was established as a research organization separate from AIPAC. These connections underscore FDD's close association with individuals and groups supportive of Israel's interests.

May has not prominently emphasized FDD's origins as a promoter of Israel and its connections to Washington's pro-Israel lobby. When questioned about the group's emergence from a "pro-Israel organization," May did not mention its initial incarnation as EMET. Instead, he stated that he was recruited to found FDD after 9/11 by Jack Kemp and Jeane Kirkpatrick, conceiving it as a policy institute focusing on national security. 

Additionally, the FDD's website simplifies its founding mission as "to promote pluralism, defend democratic values," without explicitly addressing its initial focus on enhancing Israel's image in North America. Furthermore, the organization omits Toby Dershowitz's, senior vice president for government relations and strategy, experience at AIPAC from her online bio, describing her as having worked for "a leading foreign policy organization for 14 years" without specifying the organization's name.

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