Last week, the Associated Press ran a hit job on a successful American businessman. Simon Falic and his two brothers own the Duty Free Americas chain, a private company that runs duty free stores in airports throughout the United States and Latin America.
They also happen to be Jewish. Simon Falic in particular is a powerful advocate for Jewish causes worldwide and for the State of Israel.
Through their family foundation, Simon Falic and his wife donate to dozens of organizations in Israel. The causes they support run the gamut from medical research to Jewish education. They support synagogue construction and refurbishment; archaeological excavations and preservation of archaeological sites; battered women’s shelters and day care centers; and the construction of new Jewish communities in Israel.
AP’s hit piece centers on Falic’s charitable work.
The title of the article gave the game away. It read, “U.S. duty free owners give millions to settlements.”
The obvious question is: so what? There is nothing even vaguely illegal about Falic’s charitable undertakings. And indeed, the article doesn’t accuse him of committing or facilitating any crime.
Instead, the article’s immediate purpose is to “out” Falic as a Zionist Jew and make his support for Jewish national rights and national self-determination in the Jewish homeland stink of fascism and zealotry.
The AP didn’t even try to hide its purpose. The lead sentence read: “When travelers shop at dozens of duty free stores at airports worldwide, they may be paying for more than a bottle of vodka or a box of chocolates.”
Oh, really — what are you funding when you buy Godiva chocolates at the airport?
The Falic family of Florida, owners of the ubiquitous Duty Free America shops, funds a generous and sometimes controversial philanthropic empire in Israel that runs through the corridors of power and stretches deep into the Israeli-controlled West Bank. An Associated Press investigation shows that the family has donated at least $5.6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past decade, funding synagogues, schools, and social services along with far-right causes considered extreme even in Israel.
The question is who in Israel views supporting schools in settlements as “extreme.” The answer is found in the identity of the author himself.
The AP reporter, Uri Blau, is associated with the radical left in Israel. In the past, Blau worked as an investigative reporter for Israel’s far left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz. In 2008, Blau ran a series of articles about the Israel Defense Force’s operations in Judea and Samaria that were based on top secret documents. He exposed details of operations that were highly damaging to Israeli forces and risked the lives of soldiers and officers involved in the operations.
The IDF opened an investigation into the source of the leaked documents. They discovered that a gossip reporter named Anat Kam, who had recently completed her conscripted military service in the Office of the Commander of Israeli Forces in Judea and Samaria, had copied thousands of classified documents during her military service. Ahead of her release, Kam stole the copied documents from her military base and transferred them to Blau. Kam was charged with, and convicted of, espionage-related offenses, and sentenced to prison time.
Blau received mixed responses from his fellow journalists for his actions. Some, who like Blau are identified with the radical left, upheld him as a paragon of journalistic integrity and courage — a man who got the story out, despite the dangers.
Most Israeli media criticized him for needlessly endangering soldiers and operations while bringing no significant added value to Israelis who didn’t need to know the information he published.
At any rate, now at his new job at the Associated Press, Blau uses his international platform to present the positions of the radical left in Israel as mainstream.
The Israeli government supports the Jewish community in Hebron, one of those Blau singles out for criticism. Most Israelis also see nothing wrong with supporting Israeli communities throughout the country, including in the West Bank. Indeed, polls suggest they support annexing Judea and Samaria.
Given that this is the case, the question is why did Blau write the article and why did the Associated Press publish it?
It would seem that the article serves multiple purposes. First, it puts a target on Falic for a future anti-Israel administration in the U.S. to harm.
During the Obama administration, the IRS didn’t limit its abusive treatment to opponents to Obama associated with the Tea Party. Jewish organizations that support conservative positions on Israel were also targeted. In the most well-publicized case, Z-Street, a Jewish group that sought to gain non-profit status for its Zionist education efforts, saw its application stalled and buried. An IRS official told a Z-Street representative that they were being slow rolled due to their positions on Israel.
Another purpose the article serves is to intimidate Falic by putting his business interests on the chopping block. Blau quotes Ran Cohen, a former member of Knesset from the radical leftist Meretz Party. (Blau represents him with the more neutral title “founder of the Israeli Democratic Bloc, which aims to expose anti-democratic trends.”)
Cohen, in turn, encouraged a consumer boycott of Falic’s business. In his words, “Everyone should be aware that when they shop at ‘Duty Free Americas,’ their dollars could potentially finance some of the most extreme right-wing actors in Israel.”
Falic, for his part, refused to be intimidated by Blau and the Associated Press.
In a statement to the news agency, he said:
To our family, “Never Again” is not a mantra but a call to action. We do not court controversy when it comes to backing individuals or causes in Israel or the US who act courageously in the face of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, racism, or any other form of discrimination. We are, however, unabashed lovers and supporters of Israel, and find it miraculous that the Jewish people have built a thriving and majestic democracy despite 2,000 years of persecution and exile.
It is unfortunate that a Jewish family dedicated to this cause is newsworthy. This is an endeavor that everyone needs to be involved in. It is even more unfortunate that some in the news media try to find any sort of negativity or malfeasance in the activity of a family that gives so much to the one and only Jewish state in the world and to numerous other charities benefiting thousands of individuals elsewhere. Nevertheless, we are undeterred and will continue to support the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, and its people.
This brings us to the final purpose of the article. That purpose is general intimidation.
Falic may not be intimidated by an AP hit job. But Blau and his editors can reasonably assume that other wealthy philanthropists are. Who wants an AP article published about his family and business that paints him as a fanatic just because he is a Zionist and supports causes most Israeli Jews support?
Over the past several years, the radical left has used public records of philanthropic endeavors to harm the fortunes and reputations of businessmen who support conservative causes. For instance, in 2014 Mozilla founder and CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign his position after he was attacked for contributing to an organization that campaigned to support traditional marriage in California.
It is a sign of the increased legitimacy of Israel-bashing (and Israel-supporter-bashing) on the left that an American Jewish businessman is now being targeted for supporting Israel the way another American businessman was targeted five years ago for opposing gay marriage.