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Bill Clinton's Half-Million Dollar Speech Is Drawing Outrage in Israel (UPDATED)


"…cause for embarrassment."

Former President Bill Clinton (File Photo: Getty Images)

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Update: The Jewish National Fund in the U.S. contacted TheBlaze to distance itself from the Israel-based Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, which is also known as the Jewish National Fund, and goes by the acronym KKL-JNF. In a telephone call, JNF-USA’s Spokeswoman Neta Yoffe explained that the two groups, JNF-USA and the Israeli organization KKL-JNF are in fact two distinct and separate groups.  She emphasized 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.

Yoffe says the American non-profit organization feels it has been misrepresented in the press and asked TheBlaze to update our story.

While the groups both have “Jewish National Fund” in their names, upon examining the two groups' websites, the U.S.  and Israeli groups are indeed separate entities, with a different leadership and board members.

In the story below, we have changed “Jewish National Fund” to KKL-JNF – except in those places it appeared in direct quotes from English publications - to make clear the distinction between the U.S. and Israel-based organizations.

Senior Israeli media figures are voicing outrage at a revelation this weekend that former U.S. President Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a gala speech later this month in honor of Israeli President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday.

The commissioned speech at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot is expected to last 45 minutes, meaning each minute is costing sponsors $11,111.

According to Israeli news accounts, the large sum will go to the William J. Clinton Foundation which focuses its efforts on a range of causes including economic, health, leadership and environmental.

The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) paid the half-million dollar fee to secure the former president’s participation a year in advance, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.

The KKL-JNF is known for its tree planting campaigns, park planning and nature reserve construction, which includes encouraging Jews around the world to buy a tree in Israel. As TheBlaze reported last year, it has also been the focus of pro-Palestinian activists who accuse the organization of “war crimes” for its environmentally-friendly activities in Israel which the activists consider to be on Palestinian land.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz called the fee paid by the nonprofit a "cause for embarrassment.”

Ayala Hasson, chief diplomatic correspondent for Israel TV tweeted she believes it indicates "a loss of all shame."

“The founders of the KKL are turning in their graves,” she posted. “The KKL spokeswoman didn’t answer me who approved this scandalous amount. She only responded that it is a great honor blah blah…"

Amir Mizroch who edits Israel Hayom’s English language edition tweeted, "Aren't they supposed to plant trees with donor cash?"

"I guess money does grow on trees,” he quipped.

Clinton regularly commands high speaking fees, earning $13.4 million from speeches in 2011. His most lucrative speech that year, in Hong Kong in November 2011, came with a $750,000 price tag.

Haaretz said the KKL-JNF had hoped “to generate positive PR for itself abroad − where pro-Palestinian activists have been attacking the agency − by inviting Clinton to speak on sustainability at its annual conference, while at the same time introducing some of its biggest donors to Clinton. This was in the hope of facilitating the JNF’s long-term fund-raising goals.”

The gala dinner drew further scrutiny when former Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid revealed that each invited guest was being asked to donate approximately $800 (3,000 New Israeli Shekels) for scholarships distributed by the Peres Academic Center.

Haaretz reports:

But after learning of the event’s fund-raising ambitions, the chief of staff of the President’s Residence, Efrat Duvdevani, sent a letter to the heads of the Peres Academic Center in which she made it clear that Peres would not attend the dinner if donations were solicited during the event.

The PAC [Peres Academic Center] declined the offer by the president’s staff to cancel Peres’ attendance to enable the fund-raising to go ahead; instead, the institution would waive the ticket fee.

Globes quoted the KKL-JNF spokesman's office which stated: "The Peres Academic Center in Rehovot invited Clinton, closed the financial terms with him, and paid him."

The Peres Academic Center issued this statement, as quoted by Globes: “President Bill Clinton will be the guest of honor at the special tribute which the center will hold in Rehovot. The event at the Center's campus will be held in the presence of the President of Israel, ministers, and public figures. Belying previous reports, it was decided that there will be no fundraising at the event, and people attending will not be asked to pay for their participation.”

While in Israel, Clinton is also scheduled to take part in the President’s Conference in Jerusalem along with other celebrity headliners such as Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.

This post has been updated.

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