The phenomenon of leftist billionaires funding anti-capitalist activism seems on the surface to be a contradiction. How could those who should understand the way individual freedom and initiative creates wealth with the power to do good seek the destruction of the system that produces this wealth? The answer is a complex one, although for those who inherited wealth, rather than making their own fortune, guilt clearly plays a role. This seems to be the case with billionaire former sports mogul George Gund III. He used to own the San Jose Sharks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Today he’s the co-founder of two foundations which provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of radical causes.
In a rare public interview, Gund has commented on his admiration for those who led lives that challenged the established cultural order, like Zen artists. This affinity for the “outsider” has driven Gund to bankroll the films and activism of Iara Lee, his Korean-Brazilian wife 27 years his junior. Since 2003, Lee has globe-hopped throughout the Middle East, filming sequences for a documentary she and Gund released this spring as “Cultures of Resistance.” Last year she rose to prominence after releasing footage she shot on the Mavi Marmara during a clash between jihadist IHH activists and Israeli commandos during the “flotilla” confrontation.
In spite of their supposed sympathy for outsiders, the couple chooses to focus most of their activist money against the most tolerant Middle Eastern state. Israel is their primary target. The couple is completely indifferent to the reality that the rights of gays, women and religious minorities are protected more diligently in this supposedly “apartheid” state than in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Thus, the Iara Lee and George Gund III Foundation (ILGGF) (founded 2004) and the Caipirinha Foundation (founded 2006) have funneled more than half a million dollars to activist groups committed to demonizing Israel and supporting Hamas.
The most troubling of Lee and Gund’s anti-Israel donations has been the Caipirinha Foundation’s grant to the The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) which sponsors flotillas that seek to disrupt Israel’s military blockade of Gaza. The IHH also has ties to Hamas, Al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, a fact which prevented the IHH from participating in the next flotilla scheduled for the end of this month. Lee has defended the IHH in a video and blog post at The Huffington Post.
The dollar amount of Caipirinha’s grant is not yet available. The donation was likely made in 2010 as it does not appear on the organization’s 2007, 2008, or 2009 records. Caipirinha used the Zakat Foundation of America as a “fiscal sponsor.—that is, as a non-profit intermediary to funnel tax-exempt donations to another organization that’s too openly radical to qualify for 501©3 status, the progressive non-profit world’s version of money laundering.
In 2009 the ILGGF gave $50,000 to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a George Soros-sponsored non-profit which disproportionately targets its Human Rights concerns on Israel. In both 2008 and 2007 the ILGGF made donations of $60,000 to HRW, making their three-year total $170,000.
In 2009 the foundation also provided $100,000 to the International Crisis Group (ICG), an organization which in 2007 urged the international community to help Hamas and Fatah form a coalition government and for Israel to negotiate with it. In 2008 the ILGGF provided the ICG with $100,000 and $25,000 in 2007 for a three-year total of $225,000.
In 2009 Caipirinha donated $10,000 to the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation to fund a 30-second ad. The ILGGF has previously donated $10,000 to the campaign in 2008 and 2007 for a three-year total of $30,000
The ILGGF and Caipirinha have also supported the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). In 2009 Caipirinha donated $5000 specifically for publicity for anti-Israel activist Phyllis Bennis, a fellow of the IPS who has previously characterized Israel as an apartheid state, vigorously promoted the so-called “right of return,” and endorsed the 2000 Palestinian Intifada. The ILGGF donated $10,000 to the IPS in both 2007 and 2008 for a three-year total of $25,000.
In 2009 the Caipirinha Foundation donated $20,000 to the “Free Gaza” Movement (FGM) through the “fiscal sponsor” of American Educational Trust. (The AET is a tax-deductible foundation, whereas direct donations to FGM cannot be written off on tax returns.) According to the FGM, Israel’s creation was a “catastrophe” and a “historical injustice.” Like the IHH (which it coordinated efforts with in 2010), the FGM sponsors flotillas to attempt to disrupt the naval blockade Israel set up to prevent Hamas’ rockets from reaching terrorists in Gaza. Lee herself went last year and recruited Holocaust denier and “independent scholar” Norman Finkelstein to join her this year.
The Caipirinha Foundation was especially active in 2009, making many smaller donations to leftist, anti-Israel groups. Caipirinha donated $65,000 to four groups claiming to provide “emergency medical supplies” and “relief aid” in Gaza: $5,000 for Kinder USA, $5,000 for the Eschaton Foundation, $5000 for American Near East Refugee Aid, and $50,000 for Grassroots International. Caipirinha also provided $4000 to the International Solidarity Movement through the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute and $5,000 to Code Pink.
Lee and Gund’s total is $544,000 in three years – and that’s only for groups heavily focused on Israel and does not include 2010 since records are not yet available.
Now that Gund is no longer active in the sports world, where does he get his money to fund his wife’s anti-Israel friends? The estimated net worth of the Gund family in 1999 was $1.7 billion. According to SmartTrend News the Gunds own 9% of Kellogg, and have since the 1920s when George Gund Jr. sold his decaf coffee company (later called Sanka) to the breakfast cereal giant.
In the end, it is perhaps not a great mystery why Gund would sympathize with Zen artists. The philosophy is based on learning how to transcend caring about the world, its people, and the practical realities of day-to-day life. Owning a large chunk of one of America’s most successful corporations, while trying to earn the Left's forgiveness for having inherited his wealth, helped George Gund achieve just that.