Group Says it Is Withdrawing Funding after Outcry over Bill Clinton’s $500,000 Israel Speech

Former President Bill Clinton addresses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Mid-Year Meeting Monday, May 6, 2013 in New York. (Photo: Associated Press/Craig Ruttle)

Earlier this week it was reported, including by TheBlaze, that former President Bill Clinton had charged his hosts $500,000, one year in advance, to deliver a 45 minute speech at an event honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday later this month.

That news sparked an outcry in Israel, because of the size of the honorarium and because a well-known non-profit group, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) was footing the bill for the speech along with the Peres Academic Center.

Now, the KKL-JNF says it is pulling its funding for the Clinton speech, with one member of the group telling the Israeli site Ynet, “we decided to wash our hands of the event.”

The half-a-million dollar payment was reported to be going to the William J. Clinton Foundation, not directly to the former president’s personal pocket.

Israel National News also reports that the KKL-JNF is pulling out, and added that Clinton’s participation has not been canceled.

Ynet reports:

“We have no intention of harming Clinton, the (Israeli) president, or the Israeli people. It is for the latter’s sake that we raise hundreds of million of dollars annually, and hence we have decided to refrain from participating in the event,” a member of the [KKL-JNF] organization stated.

At first, the heads of the JNF conference, which will host some 300 JNF leaders from 40 countries, were enthusiastic about funding the event, thinking their identification with Clinton would bode well for the organization in light of the former president’s pro-peace positions.

However, the tone surrounding the visit soon turned sour when it became public that Clinton would be receiving $500,000 for a 45-minute speech scheduled for June 17 at the Peres Academic College in Rehovot.

The reports broke amid a larger wave of criticism surrounding the high expenses of celebrations honoring the [Israeli] president’s entrance into his nonagenarian years.

JNF, which did not fund the event directly, is expected to see its funds returned in the near future.

According to Ynet, the KKL-JNF said it was the Peres Academic Center which closed the financial details on the Clinton speech last June.

Ynet reports that the KKL-JNF felt its name had been drawn into the controversy despite that fact that it says it did not negotiate the terms of the agreement.

Ynet quoted a letter sent Thursday to the group’s board of directors which said, “Let us make it clear that neither JNF nor anyone of its people had any contact with Clinton or his representatives.”

Earlier this week, Neta Yoffe who is Director of Communications for the Jewish National Fund in the U.S. (JNF-USA), an American non-profit organization separate from the Israel-based KKL-JNF, told TheBlaze that funds from the JNF-USA were not transferred to the William J. Clinton Foundation, that the American organization did not know about the payment and that it would not have done that. She also said that JNF-USA does not provide any funding directly to the KKL-JNF but rather to projects in Israel.

In a statement quoted on June 2nd by the blog e-Jewish Philanthropy, JNF-USA said, “While it is customary to pay a speaker’s honorarium, travel expenses, and dinner venue cost, Jewish National Fund of America donated dollars were not utilized for this.”

Jonathan Tobin, Senior Online Editor of the conservative Jewish publication Commentary Magazine, criticized the former president for “shaking down” the charitable group which “raises questions not only of good taste but also of the propriety of one charitable endeavor profiting at the expense of the other.”

Tobin writes, “there is something unseemly about Clinton, who will receive the President’s Award from Peres at an event scheduled for two days later where Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev will also show up (their fees have not been made public), shaking down the JNF and its donor base for this kind of money for his personal charity.”

“If Clinton wants to honor his old friend Peres, it shouldn’t require someone who cares about the Peres Center or the JNF to fork over that kind of money to a cause that, for all of its good work, is a vanity project for a former president who would like very much to be the nation’s First Gentleman three years from now,” Tobin wrote.

“Throughout his post-presidency, Clinton has engaged in this kind of money making taking six-figure fees from all sorts of charities and even churches and synagogues without coming in for much criticism…. But it can also be observed that once again the 42nd president has found another way to diminish the high office with which he was entrusted,” Tobin concluded.