Updated: July 8, 2010
The Council for the National Interest (CNI), which includes the Council for the National Interest Foundation (CNIF), is an anti-Israel organization that opposes U.S. aid to Israel and disseminates demonizing propaganda about Israel to academics, politicians, and other audiences.
On June 29, 2010, CNI announced that its longtime president, Eugene H. Bird, was retiring after 17 years, and would be replaced by Alison Weir, a journalist and the director of If Americans Knew, an organization that produces and disseminates propaganda intended to de-legitimize U.S. support for Israel. In CNI's statement announcing the new appointment, Weir charged that American support for Israel "fuels violence, causes massive damage and instability in the region, profoundly undermines U.S. interests nationally and at home, endangers our citizens, and entangles our nation in unnecessary, futile, and tragic wars."
CNI and its educational arm, CNIF, are closely linked, sharing leadership, as well as a Washington, DC address and phone number. CNI founders, Paul Findley and Paul 'Pete' McCloskey, are the founders of CNIF, and Bird was previously the president of both entities. CNI was founded in 1989 as an advocacy group and established the CNIF in 1990 to serve as its educational arm. In 1997, CNIF obtained a tax-exemption status from the Internal Revenue Services (in 1994, the IRS explained that it rejected the CNIF's petition for a tax-exemption status because: "your biased presentation does not promote public education"). In its 2006 990 form, CNIF lists CNI as an affiliated organization.
In recent years, CNIF sent several delegations to the Middle East that met with terrorist leaders from Hezbollah and Hamas, including two delegations that met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus in 2009 and 2008. A previous delegation met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in January 2006. During the meeting, Nasrallah informed his guests of his intention to abduct Israeli soldiers. Edward Peck, a member of the delegation, later described Nasrallah's comments as a "logical, reasonable presentation" and cited it as proof that Hezbollah's image in the West was distorted.
Peck, who has led and participated in several CNIF delegations to the Middle East, is a former chair of CNIF and a former U.S. ambassador. In May 2010, at age 81, Peck participated in the Free Gaza Movement-led flotilla that attempted to reach Gaza. He was apprehended along with the other flotilla participants and detained by Israeli forces before reaching Gaza.
In addition to its anti-Israel activity abroad, CNI has attempted to promote its views to the American public, including running numerous anti-Israel ads in major national newspapers. On August 28, 2008, the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CNI ran an ad in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News highlighting high home foreclosure rates in the U.S. and charging that "meanwhile, billions of your tax dollars continue to purchase beautiful homes with subsidized mortgages… in Israel." Insinuating that U.S. taxpayer dollars are helping Israelis afford their homes even while Americans cannot, the ad called for a "big change" in U.S. policy towards "Israel and her neighbors." CNI ran a similar ad in Christian Science Monitor the same day.
On June 10, 2007, CNI published an ad in The New York Times expressing support for an anti-Israel rally being held that day in Washington D.C. The ad demanded: "End the Israeli occupation now!," calling for Israel to "get out of the West Bank and Golan Heights, and free up Gaza." The ad also included a cartoon that CNI described, in a June 6, 2007 email letter to supporters, as depicting "the top six presidential contenders scrambling to get to an AIPAC podium to express their 'undying support' to the state of Israel." A caption in the cartoon said: "They're competing for the president of which country?"
In a previous ad in The New York Times, published on April 22, 2007, CNI condemned Israel, calling on Congress to "deal with Israeli apartheid in Palestine!" The ad further condemned U.S. support for what it claimed were "Israel's policies of colonization, Apartheid and imprisonment of the Palestinians," which, according to the ad, were "making the two-state solution to the conflict impossible." The ad avoided any condemnation of terrorism, instead calling for an overhaul of U.S. policy in the Middle East, including financing the Hamas-led government in Gaza and starting a dialogue with Syria and Iran.
Prior to that, in an ad that it published in The New York Times on November 5, 2006, CNI blamed Israel for the war in Iraq and accused the "Israel Lobby" of trying to push the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran. The ad included a cartoon in which the "Israel Lobby" is depicted as a crooked used car salesman and the U.S. as its gullible customer. As in other CNI ads, the cartoon was created by Khalil Bendib, a prolific Muslim-American cartoonist whose work often incorporates anti-Semitic themes.
Other previous CNI ads have described Israel's founding in 1948 as a time when Israel "rejected, uprooted, tortured, maimed and expelled" the Palestinian population; have described Israel as a state that promotes "discrimination and apartheid"; and have called for Israel to be "held accountable" for "espionage and covert operations against the U.S.," and for its "development of weapons of mass destruction." CNI also claimed that Israel is responsible for "metastasiz[ing] terror around the world," and for "acts of aggression, provocation, and massive retaliation" against neighboring Arab states.
Moreover, CNI is becoming increasingly more involved in an old anti-Israel campaign that is rooted in the discredited accusation that during Israel's Six Day War in 1967, Israeli forces purposely attacked an American ship, the USS Liberty, and that only because of a conspiracy to cover up the truth by U.S. officials, Israel was never held accountable. In June 2007, CNIF hosted an event to commemorate the attack.
Also, in April 2007, James Abourezk, a former U.S. Senator and the CNIF vice chairman, published two articles in The Liberty News, a newsletter of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, that attacked Israel as illegitimate and Zionism as racism. In one article, Abourezk claimed that Israel's war of independence was part of a Zionist "ethnic cleansing" campaign and that the Palestinians "wanted no part in the violence being introduced into their homeland by the Jewish military." He also wrote that the Holocaust "became a bonanza for the Zionist movement" and claimed that the vote in the UN in favor of establishing a Jewish state was an "injustice" and, from a legal perspective, should not be seen as binding. Abourezk quoted a Jewish friend, whose name he withheld: "Israel has nothing to do with Judaism, but it has everything to do with fascism." In a second article, Abourezk praised the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad and claimed that "the Israeli Lobby" was pushing for a war against Iran.
In contrast to its harsh criticism of Israel, CNI has defended terror groups that attack Israel, particularly Hamas. In a December 2006 solicitation letter, CNI stated that "despite Congress's repeated attempts to characterize Hamas as an anti-Christian terrorist organization, the fact is that Hamas has just announced that they will give [money] for Bethlehem's Christmas celebration." The letter had followed similar statements in support of the Palestinian terror organization and several meetings in the Middle East earlier in 2006 between CNI representatives and key leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, including Khaled Meshal and Hassan Nasrallah, as well as Syrian president Assad.
In a widely circulated 2003 article, "Liberating America from Israel," CNI founding chairman Paul Findley, a member of CNI's board of directors, blamed America's relationship with Israel for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "Nine-eleven would not have occurred," Findley wrote, "if the U.S. government had refused to help Israel humiliate and destroy Palestinian society." He added, "America suffered 9/11 and its aftermath and may soon be at war with Iraq, mainly because U.S. policy in the Middle East is made in Israel, not in Washington."
In May 2000, Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, CNI's chairman at the time, spoke at the conference of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a Holocaust denial organization. He shared the stage with known anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers like David Irving, Mark Weber, Robert Faurisson, Arthur Butz, John Bennett and Ernst Zundel. From the podium, McCloskey said of the IHR, "I respect the thesis of this organization," according to a transcript of the speech that was posted online by the IHR.
CNI was founded in 1989 by several former U.S. government officials, including Paul Findley and Paul 'Pete' McCloskey (both former U.S. congressmen), Eugene H. Bird (formerly with the U.S. foreign service), Andrew Killgore (former U.S. ambassador to Qatar), and Richard Curtiss (former U.S. Information Agency chief). Kilgore and Curtiss are the founding president and executive director of the Washington D.C.-based American Educational Trust (AET), an anti-Israel group that publishes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.