More Than a Box of Chocolates

Until this week, Simon Falic was a relatively obscure businessman and philanthropist who has for years given generously to a wide range of worthy causes in the United States and abroad.

An Associated Press profile on Mr. Falic changed that. Now, thanks to the AP, he is famous — or infamous — depending on your point of view.

While Falic is a minor altruist compared to the juggernauts of contemporary philanthropy such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Sheldon Adelson, he was chosen for special attention because, as the AP described him in its headline, he and his brothers are “U.S. duty-free magnates [who] fund controversial Israeli settlements.”

The Falic family of Florida, it reveals, are owners of the chain of Duty Free America shops. And since the Falics have given “at least $5.6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and east Jerusalem over the past decade,” shoppers should beware that “they may be paying for more than a bottle of vodka or a box of chocolates.”

As Ran Cohen, founder of the leftist Israeli Democratic Bloc, said, “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.”

In an unusually long piece — 2,400 words — with copious detail, family photos and donation graphics, their philanthropic activities were laid bare for all to see. The recipients include shuls, yeshivos, schools, hospitals and social services in Israel, including in Yehudah and Shomron. They are also backers of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Friends of the IDF, the Jewish community in Chevron and Ateret Kohanim.

The AP explains that Ateret Kohanim “facilitates the sale of Palestinian properties in and around the Old City to Jewish settlers,” and adds helpfully that this is considered “an act of treason in Palestinian society.”

In addition, the Falics have donated substantially to “Hachnasat Orchim Hebron,” a group that hosts visitors to the Jewish community and provides snacks to Israeli soldiers protecting the residents. Baruch Marzel, a far-right figure who was a disciple of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, Hy”d, is said to be “deeply involved” in the organization. Rabbi Kahane’s Kach party was outlawed in the 1980s on the grounds of incitement against Arabs. Links to Marzel’s radical colleagues were also mentioned.

The article does not fail to note that the Falics also support many mainstream causes in the U.S., such as hospitals, athletics and helping the needy. But the focus is on the “controversial” side of their giving.

And, always careful to put the news in accurate perspective, the AP dutifully reminds its readers that “most of the world considers Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be obstacles to peace that gobble up territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state … violat[ing] international law.”

We have no reason to doubt the content of the report. Simon Falic himself confirms it. “We are proud to support organizations that help promote Jewish life all over the Land of Israel. The idea that the mere existence of Jewish life in any geographical area is an impediment to peace makes no sense to us.”

In an apparent exercise in fairness, the AP even ran a several-paragraph response to the initial article, in which Falic states his philosophy of giving, without any comment from the wire service.

Falic is given an open AP platform to state his position: “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.”

But this does not undo the harm caused by this latest instance of media bias against Israel. The unmistakable message in the AP coverage is that anyone who patronizes the Falics’ duty-free shops are indirectly putting money into the coffers of the Israeli right-wing. With this kind of journalism, the Associated Press can claim honorary membership in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, if it doesn’t already have it. There is no explicit call for a boycott here, but the idea is implicit. Which is arguably worse.

As of this writing, Hamodia has received no response from the AP to a request for comment.