An American communications firm best known for shaping the liberal Moveon.org into a national movement has tackled a new project: orchestrating an international anti-Israel campaign aimed at breaking the blockade of the Gaza strip.
Fenton Communications, which has offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco, signed two contracts last year with Qatar to develop “a communications action plan for an 18-month campaign” aimed at delegitimizing Israel and generating international support for the Hamas-run Gaza strip, documents filed with the Department of Justice show.
The campaign, known as the “Al Fakhoora Project,” has a very visible Web presence that boasts of rallying 10,000 activists “against the blockade on Gaza.”
Fenton signed the contracts, worth more than $390,000, with the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the Qatari ruler, and a separate foundation she chairs. The contracts are ongoing, according to Fenton’s Foreign Agent registration forms.
U.S. diplomats in the region view the elegant sheikha as a “progressive” force in Qatar, who has partnered in the past with U.S. AID and other U.S. government agencies on projects involving education, women’s rights, and the arts.
Fenton’s Al Fakhoora project is cleverly disguised as a campaign to help students in Gaza in the pursuit of a better education.
One of the documents filed with the Department of Justice describes Al Fakhoora as a “student-led campaign to protect education from violence during war or conflicts, specifically in Gaza, and to lead an international public opinion awareness campaign that advocates for the accountability of those who participated in attacks on schools in Gaza.”
Robert Perez, the Fenton executive in charge of both accounts who is based in San Francisco, did not return repeated messages from Newsmax.
The Qatari sheikha paid Fenton for “developing and managing” the campaign website, “including regularly advising and updating the site with new content,” according to the contract documents.
The website features a YouTube interview with the Al Fakhoora director, explaining why the group took part in the aid flotilla that attacked Israeli special forces on May 31, and a sidebar boasting that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is mulling a resolution “to condemn Israeli Defense Forces’ military attack on the Freedom Flotilla.”
Fenton’s contracts called for the group to assist the sheikha and her Qatar Foundation “in the recruitment of student leaders in US and international college campuses,” and “in the recruitment of grass-roots supporters, including NGOs and virtual supporters internationally.”
It also called on Fenton to:
• Train a spokesman for the group and provide “leadership development curriculum for student leaders”
• Conduct “spokesperson training sessions” for student leaders
• Monitor social networking and mainstream media outlets and blogs
• Develop press materials and “pitch stories to university and mainstream press”
• Train students how to research, compose, and produce propaganda clips
• Conduct outreach “to potential political partners in the United States”
The cash from Qatar bought a sophisticated U.S. media campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion to generate support for the Hamas-led government and the people of the Gaza strip.
It also included a full-scale fundraising effort aimed at generating a war chest of up to $100 million in addition to the money the Qatari sheikha provided.
Al Fakhoora Director Farooq Burney explains in a YouTube video about the Gaza flotilla attack that “the purpose of us to join this trip was number one, to allow support, or to enable us to interact with students in Gaza. Our intention was to go there and lend our support to students in Gaza and let them know that people care for them, and people are advocating for them to have access to quality education.”
Burney says he was carrying 65 computers for schools in Gaza, and that “there was a lot of excitement” among the participants, with “a festive mood” on board the ships.
Schools in Gaza are predominantly run by UNWRA, the United Nations agency set up in 1948 to take care of Palestinian refugees. A video exposing anti-Israel incitement taught in UNWRA schools, “For the Sake of Nakba,” made by veteran Israeli journalist David Bedein, was shown last week in the U.S. Senate.
“Unfortunately,” Burney went on, “we were attacked by the Israeli navy. People were killed. People were injured. It was very saddening to see that, to have somebody die in front of you . . . We talk about humanitarian work, we talk about activism. I don’t know how much more peaceful this could have been.”
Video footage taken by shipboard cameras and released by the Israel Defense Forces shows activists suiting up in bulletproof vests and assaulting Israeli commandos with metal bars and clubs as they tried to board the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish “aid” ship Burney describes in his YouTube interview.
Other footage, taken from Israeli helicopters, shows the “activists” assaulting an Israeli commando as he is rappelling down to the ship and tossing him off the deck of the ship.
The primary weapon the Israeli commandos used during the boarding operation was a Tippman 98 Custom — a paintball gun.
Testimony one of the commandos released later described how the “activists” shot this commanding officer in the leg and stabbed him in the stomach before tossing him off the deck. Other “activists” on the lower deck then dragged the officer inside, taking a knife to expand the wound in his stomach.
“They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out,” the soldier said.
“When they finished, they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. He was conscious the whole time. If you are asking yourself why they did all that here comes the reason. They wanted to show the soldiers their commanders’ body so they will be demoralized and scared,” the soldier said.
“Luckily, when they walked him on the deck, a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor. He shot him with a special non lethal bullet that didn’t kill him. My commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body and now in salty sea water). That was how he was saved. The activists that did this to him are alive and now in Turkey and treated as heroes.”
On Monday, Burney turned up in Qatar, where he addressed a pro-Gaza rally hosted by the Student Council at the School of Islamic Studies at the Qatar Foundation (his funder).
“Al Fakhoora has launched an advocacy campaign to file legal charges against Israel and change the public perception in the West about its actions,” Burney said, according to an account that appeared in The Peninsula, an English-language daily published in Doha, Qatar.
“We need to start somewhere to face the Israeli lobby groups and their sophisticated strategies. The brutal Israeli attack on a humanitarian team with members from 22 nationalities has given us an opportunity to work on the grass root levels and put political and diplomatic pressure on Israel,” Burney said.
The daylong event at “Education City,” one of the sheikha’s pet projects, was titled, “Rise and rise again until the siege is broken,” and included a breakout session to train activists “how to break the siege within ourselves.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton inadvertently may have provided an impetus to the blockade-busting flotillas when she addressed a town hall meeting that Al Jazeera hosted at Qatar’s Education City in February.
When one participant asked what the United States was doing to help young people in Gaza, she responded, “We have worked to encourage the lifting of the boycotts [sic], and tried to get more important materials into Gaza.”
President Obama reacted to Israel’s interception of the Gaza blockade-busters angrily, calling on Israel to scale back its naval blockade because it had become “unsustainable.”
That prompted Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to rip into the president on the floor of the House.
“Mr. President, your policy in Israel is unsustainable,” Pence said. “The American people are on the side of Israel and Israel’s right to defend herself. Mr. President, whose side are you on?”
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