On July 23, 2019, Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s spokesperson confirmed to The Detroit News that the Forum for Cultural Engagement (FCE) would be sponsoring Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar’s August 2019 trip to Israel and the West Bank. The trip was initially sponsored by the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), however the group pulled out due to “scheduling conflicts.” There are a number of connections between FCE and HDI, as detailed below, including the fact that FCE’s co-director Joe Merante is also HDI’s chief operating officer. A May New York Daily News article cited the Palestinian NGO MIFTAH as a second sponsor.
Forum for Cultural Engagement (FCE)
FCE describes its activities as developing and managing “public diplomacy programs in coordination with the U.S. Department of State and private partners,” with an emphasis on “sports diplomacy programs” but does not disclose information about specific programs.
According to FCE, its programs are supported by the US Department of State, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Pfizer, and Yale University, among others.
FCE lists several “partner” organizations on its website, including US embassies around the world, but does not detail the nature of these links. A number of groups located in Israel and the West Bank are also listed as partners.1 Many of these groups have little to no English, Arabic, or Hebrew web presence.
FCE Staff and Affiliates
Two staff members are listed on the FCE website: co-directors Joe Merante and Mary McBride. Merante, a former US diplomat, is also HDI’s chief operating officer. FCE’s 2015-2017 I-990 forms list Boris Shapoval as the organization’s treasurer. Shapoval also serves as the “Program Manager, US-UN Relations” at HDI.
FCE oversees the management of co-founder Mary McBride’s “Home Tour,” which “brings live musical concerts and community celebrations to the homes of people who otherwise would not have regular access to live music.”2 In addition to being a professional musician, McBride is also an HDI “celebrity spokesperson.” HDI appears to have organized tours for McBride in 2010-2014, with some taking place at US embassies.3
The Palestinian NGO MIFTAH promotes an intense anti-Israel agenda, with accusations of “massacres,” “apartheid,” “summary executions” and of “Judaizing” Jerusalem. The group also publishes articles that advocate for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions). The organization is headed by veteran PLO politician and spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi.4
According to its 2018 financial report, MIFTAH’s donors include Switzerland, Norway, EU, Germany, Ireland, the UN, OXFAM, and the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC).
|Switzerland (Swiss Cooperation Office)||$144,000|
|Norway (Representative Office of Norway in Ramallah)||$210,136|
|Ireland (Representative Office of Ireland in Ramallah)||$79,709|
|UN (UN Population Fund)||$71,246|
MIFTAH and HDI’s 2016 Congressional Delegation to the West Bank
Participants met with Shawan Jabarin, head of the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq. In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court noted that Jabarin is “among the senior activists of the Popular Front terrorist organization.”6 (The PFLP is a US-designated terror organization.)
- Partners located in Israel and the West Bank include: African Community (Jerusalem), Al-Kasaba Theater (Ramallah), Al-Kasaba Ramallah (Ramallah), Al-Najah University (Nablus), America House Jerusalem (Jerusalem), American Language Center (Jerusalem), Dar Al-Fonon, Askar Refugee Camp (Nablus), King Abdullah Cultural Center (Jerusalem), Lady of the Mountain Orphanage (Jerusalem), Princess Basma Center (Hashemi Al-Shamali), UNRWA School for Girls (Wehdat), Zaha Center (Jerusalem), and ZINC (Jerusalem).
- FCE’s Washington DC address is the same as McBride’s father’s lobbying firm, “Charlie McBride Associates.”
- After 2015, but without indication of HDI involvement, McBride has performed at US embassies, including in Kosovo, Bahrain, and Pakistan.
- In a January 2017 interview for Deutsche Welle, founder and chair of the MIFTAH board of directors Hanan Ashrawi claimed that Palestinian “attacks and their perpetrators” (as described by the interviewer, Tim Sebastian) “are seen by the people as resistance. And you cannot somehow adopt the language of either the international community or the occupier by describing anybody who resists as terrorist (sic)” (3:20). She further described Wafa Idrees, one of the first female Palestinian suicide bombers, as “the beginning of a string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.”
- After the trip, Rep. Johnson spoke at BDS event, stating, “there has been a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement activity that has marched forward with impunity and at an ever increasing rate to the point where it has become alarming.”
- In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected Jabarin’s appeal to travel abroad: “….the current petitioner is apparently acting as a manner of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, acting some of the time as the CEO of a [human] rights organization, and at other times as an activist in a terror organization which has not shied away from murder and attempted murder, which have nothing to do with rights…” Additionally, in 2009, Jabarin was again prohibited by the Israeli authorities from travelling abroad. Jabarin appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court which rejected his appeal, stating, “We found that the material pointing to the petitioner’s involvement in the activity of terrorist entities is concrete and reliable.”