Miami Beach Man's Millions Thwart Middle East Peace
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

The bulldozers arrive at dawn on a Sunday. In the inky twilight of this crisp January morning, several bearded men creak open a barbed-wire gate to grant entry to the three Caterpillar machines. For a short while, the men contemplate the darkened and crumbling building among the olive trees. East Jerusalem, in this moment, is quiet.

Then an SMS message in Arabic beams to hundreds of telephones throughout the city: Bulldozers gathered outside the Shepherd Hotel.

Soon car after car of protesters climbs the Mount of Olives, where the Bible says Jesus once wept for the fate of Jerusalem, to find the bulldozers clawing at the abandoned structure. As a nearby mosque's morning call for prayer begins its roll across the arid hills of red and brown, the Palestinians watch the destruction, sleep stuck in their eyes.

Irving Moskowitz, 85, hasn't been seen publicly in years, but his influence reverberates across Israel.
Wikimedia Commons / Mazel123
Irving Moskowitz, 85, hasn't been seen publicly in years, but his influence reverberates across Israel.
The Shepherd Hotel in Jerusalem once housed a Muslim spiritual leader in Jerusalem. Moskowitz bought it in 1985 and tore it down earlier this year.
Wikimedia Commons
The Shepherd Hotel in Jerusalem once housed a Muslim spiritual leader in Jerusalem. Moskowitz bought it in 1985 and tore it down earlier this year.
After Israeli settlers moved into the Hamdallah house, they divided their quarters from the Hamdallahs' with barbed wire.
Melanie Lidman
After Israeli settlers moved into the Hamdallah house, they divided their quarters from the Hamdallahs' with barbed wire.
Surrounding the Hamdallahs are several Jewish condominiums in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood.
Melanie Lidman
Surrounding the Hamdallahs are several Jewish condominiums in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood.

A silver-haired city councilman named Elisha Peleg materializes, cocooned in a blue blazer. The Israeli politician, stout and distinguished, squints into the dust and looks pleased. Six months before, the Jerusalem City Council had signed off on razing the building, which once housed an anti-Semitic Palestinian leader named Haj Amin al-Husseini.

"Everyone in Israel wants a united city of Jerusalem!" Peleg booms, fists clenched at both sides, to a throng of protesters and journalists encircling him.

"No!" erupts Dimitri Diliani, a bespectacled Palestinian with a round face patched in scruff. "You are committing crimes. You're nothing more than a modern-looking crook — a fascist criminal — trying to get us out of our homes!"

"This one city is the capital of Israel," the politician replies. "It will never be the capital of another country."

The crowd pulses around Peleg, but it's much too late for protest. The bulldozers hammer the 80-year-old building until little remains of this symbol of Palestinian nationalism except broken slabs of stone and concrete.

The United Nations, the European Union, and President Barack Obama all condemned the hotel's demolition as a lit match arcing into the Mideast's most combustible powder basin.

But neither Israeli citizens, government institutions, nor corporations were behind the Shepherd Hotel melee. Rather, it traced to a profoundly secretive and ruthlessly intelligent Miami Beach resident whom some analysts consider one of the world's greatest threats to Middle East peace and stability. Irving Moskowitz, an 85-year-old recluse and casino titan, purchased, destroyed, and will soon replace the Palestinian heritage and biblical site with 20 apartments intended for religious Jews.

At several pivotal moments over the past three decades, when peace between Israel and Palestine has seemed possible, Moskowitz has appeared with fistfuls of cash siphoned from his California gambling empire. From their white, seven-bedroom Miami mansion on North Bay Road, Moskowitz and his wife, Cherna, have donated at least $85 million to organizations that have spawned some of the most controversial settlements in Israel, a New Times examination of tax records reveals.

With the cooperation of the Israeli government, the Moskowitzes and their allies — including many in South Florida — have helped boost the Jewish population in the West Bank from 10,000 to a half-million.

Now, as Obama returns from a visit to Israel in which he offered fresh criticism of settlements, Israel continues its descent into an uncertain era of possible diplomatic isolation and Palestinian apartheid. And the day may soon arrive — if it hasn't already — when a two-state solution becomes impossible.

If that happens, historians may well look back and say Irving Moskowitz was the reason.

There comes a time of year in urban Milwaukee when the temperature sinks below zero for weeks, the sun sets at 3 p.m., and the iced streets are coated with salt so fine it floats. Six thousand miles from Jerusalem, two boys — one tall, the other short — walk down Ninth Street on such a day. Their destination, North Division High School, isn't for miles. So they begin a game.

"Icicle, do another," one says as they plod through the Jewish ghetto of 1,000 Eastern European inhabitants. Both boys carry baseball gloves.

Irving Moskowitz, then a 14-year-old with sand-colored hair and ill-fitting hand-me-downs, lowers his mitt and begins. He uses the letters from a nearby sign marking Ninth Street to create word after word. "Hint, tree, nine, thin," he says. Then he rattles off several more combinations before his taller friend, Marty Slater, can pronounce even one.

"He used to be able to read all the street signs backward quicker than I could read them forward," recalls Slater, Moskowitz's closest childhood friend. "We think he had a photographic memory. He was taking algebra and trig when we were in the first steps of math. He was just... I hate to call him a genius, because I'm not qualified, but he was that bright."

But there was also a deep, quiet anger inside Moskowitz, who declined to comment for this article. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family of Polish fish peddlers who carted their catch to local markets during World War II. In ethnically German Milwaukee, "Hitler's speeches were on the radio all the time," says Moskowitz's brother-in-law, Aaron Shovers. "You couldn't get a job unless you spoke German. People in Milwaukee wanted to fight on Hitler's side. Hitler was worshiped in Wisconsin."

News filtered into the Moskowitz home that 120 Jewish relatives had been slaughtered across Eastern Europe. But in Milwaukee, the remnants of the Great Depression pummeled the impoverished family, and to make extra money, the Moskowitz boys had to distribute anti-Semitic pamphlets.

But beyond that, Slater says, the bloodshed washing across Europe didn't appear to trouble Moskowitz. Milwaukee's Jewish community was insular, and faith, though it played a profound role in everyone's life, wasn't conversation fodder. Instead, Moskowitz talked about baseball. His glove, Slater recalls, was always nearby.

Hair greased back, Moskowitz yammered with his buddies at the school lunch table — Cubs this, Yankees that. Later, he became sports editor at the school paper, the North Star, and center fielder on the school baseball team. "He was a fantastic athlete, just a marvelous baseball player," Slater says.

At the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a bachelor's degree in letters and science in 1949, Moskowitz hauled in local headlines playing for the baseball team, says friend Mort Klein, now a prominent Zionist in New York. "He once showed me the box scores," Klein says. "He had constant home runs and triples. He was that good."

One day at a Jewish center, Moskowitz spotted a 19-year-old Russian Jew from nearby Racine. Her name was Cherna Shovers. Dark straight hair framed her delicate features. Moskowitz ambled up to the lithe beauty and soon learned Cherna's family too had suffered anti-Semitism. "Every day, I had to leave school five minutes early and run home so other boys wouldn't beat me," recalled her brother, Aaron Shovers, now 85 years old and a retired dentist in Long Beach, California.

In 1950, the year after Moskowitz entered medical school in Madison, the two married at a conservative synagogue called Beth Israel in Milwaukee, according to a report that year in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The couple wasn't long for Wisconsin, though, and after Moskowitz finished his degree, they fled to Los Angeles. Soon, however, their attention turned elsewhere.

In the Mideast, a new Jewish nation wrought from the crumbling British Empire had fallen into a savage Arab-Israeli war. Jordan captured half of Jerusalem and either expelled or butchered virtually every Jew living there. Jerusalem, like Berlin, became a city of lines. Jews across America wondered once again whether their people faced extermination and how they could help.

In those chaotic years, Moskowitz amassed a fortune. First, he opened a successful practice treating patients in Southern California. But his true talents emerged in matters of real estate, and he pulled in millions. All the while, he dispatched increasingly hawkish letters to the Los Angeles Times. In one 1965 missive, he called Egypt a "Mideast Cuba." In another, he wrote: "By now Jews know the code words and phrases used by the Arabs and the apologizers are euphemisms for the destruction of the Jewish state and the completion of Hitler's 'final solution.' No respectable Jew will remain passive today."

In 1967, Israel captured the areas disputed today, including East Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War. Then-retired Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to Moskowitz and others, urging them to settle the newly conquered areas. "We need more Jews in liberated territories," the letter read.

One of the first settlements sprouted in the city of Hebron, 20 miles south of Jerusalem. To critics, this was a breach of international law: An accord signed at the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 held that no nation can "transfer" its own civilian populations into an occupied territory.

But for Moskowitz and many others, Israel embodied something so sacred that international agreements were irrelevant. He became the local president in California of a nationwide group called the Zionist Organization of America. There, he committed himself to growing the Jewish state through settlements in East Jerusalem — envisioned as Palestine's future capital. This helped ignite perhaps the most divisive clash in modern politics.

"In the midst of threats of annihilation, Hitler posted signs 'Work Makes You Free' at the entrance of concentration camps, and Jews were led to their doom by an illusion of 'peace and freedom,'" Moskowitz wrote to the Los Angeles Times before moving to Miami Beach in 1980. "Today the Jews are asked to believe the same illusion. Israel is asked to be 'reasonable' and surrender 'territories for peace.'"

Irving Moskowitz wasn't interested in either.

The Fatah gunmen came for Muhammad Abu al-Hawa on a Wednesday night.

Forty years after the 1967 war, in the water-starved hills 15 miles to Jerusalem's east, the militants tortured the stout 42-year-old father of eight who was known locally for both his brawn and his kindness. Afterward, they shot him six times in the belly and once in the head. Then they pushed al-Hawa's corpse into his Jeep, doused it in gasoline, and struck a match.

Early the next morning, police with the Palestinian authority found his torched corpse on an idyllic Jericho farm nestled among the palm and orange trees. The Fatah militants distributed a note in Jericho: We killed al-Hawa. We will kill any Arab who sells his land to a Jew. Under Palestinian Authority law, which governs the West Bank, it's a capital offense to sell property to Jews. In the past two decades, dozens of Palestinians have been executed secretly — others publicly and legally.

The al-Hawa family transported Muhammad's remains back to Jerusalem for burial. But the neighborhood seethed. Finally, at a makeshift cemetery miles down a sand-choked road to the east, the family put Muhammad in the earth.

At some point in 2006, according to reports in the Jerusalem Post, Muhammad Abu al-Hawa had sold his three-story house in the neighborhood At-Tur to a settlement group called El'ad through a Palestinian middleman. Active in the warrens of East Jerusalem, El'ad is a major recipient of money from Irving and Cherna Moskowitz. Since 2004, the couple has given the group, also known as Ir David — which means "City of David" — $5.6 million, nearly one-fifth of its budget during that period.

"No one knows exactly what happened," al-Hawa's uncle Ibrahim Abu al-Hawa tells New Times while reclining in his East Jerusalem house, strewn with leather furniture and books. "We don't think he sold his house directly to a Jew. But after he was killed, all of the secrets died with him."

His nephew, he says, has now been dead for six years, and Arab life in East Jerusalem has darkened. Where al-Hawa's house once stood, El'ad constructed a high-rise for seven Jewish families.

And today, it seems men like Moskowitz have won. Every day, more Jewish settlers arrive, while al-Hawa's wife and children — ostracized and destitute — eke out an existence in the margins. "They've lost everything," Ibrahim says.

A red-checkered scarf shadowed Ibrahim's features. His teeth were yellowed and decayed. He was quiet for a moment, thinking.

"People are scared," Ibrahim says. "They don't trust anyone. You sell your house to a Jew and you're dead. I will never sell my house! I would be an ugly man! We are forbidden. We need it for our children."

Again, he paused. "I'm not a citizen of any country. I don't have a passport. I'm not allowed to vote. I can't work anywhere in the world, and even if I leave, I can't come back. What's the difference between me and a Jew?"

The short answer: rights and money.

On a California afternoon in 1988, Irving Moskowitz puttered his battered baby-blue Cadillac down Los Alamitos Boulevard in Los Angeles County, pulling up to a cheap seafood joint called the Fish Company. Wearing jeans and a tucked-in Izod polo, he hurried to the entrance. Moskowitz, then 60, graying, and recently arrived from Miami, was late.

A thin, dark-haired 30-something named Kathy Navejas watched Moskowitz hustle over, ease into a chair across from her, and order a plate of salmon. Navejas was mayor of Hawaiian Gardens, a city of 15,000 mostly Latino residents two dozen miles south of downtown L.A. They'd met to talk bingo.

Hawaiian Gardens is less than one square mile, half the size of Wynwood. Fewer than 10 percent of its residents have bachelor's degrees or higher, and one in five lives below the poverty line. It's one of seven cities in Los Angeles County that allows casino gambling, and its primary source of revenue — the local bingo hall — had recently been sold to Moskowitz for $4 million.

But there was a problem. Moskowitz didn't have a city bingo license. So he schmoozed the young mayor. "He told me these amazing stories about his childhood, and he was just so intriguing," says Navejas. Moskowitz reminded her of her father. "I was mesmerized by his way of speaking. He came from nothing." Within weeks, Navejas had built political support for Moskowitz, and he had his license.

The bingo parlor became an immediate cash cow for Israeli radicals, according to tax records collected by the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens & Jerusalem, an anti-Moskowitz organization. In 1987, the year before Moskowitz opened the bingo club, he gave only $6,750 to a Zionist group called Ateret Cohanim, which settles Jewish families near some of the holiest sites in the Muslim world.

But with the bingo club churning out $33 million per year, Moskowitz sank much, much more into its proxy, American Friends of Ateret Cohanim (the name translates to "Crown of the Priests.") Through 1994, the bingo king gave the American group $2.35 million — all of it tax deductible, all of it funneled to Jerusalem. "The Moskowitz family is a very unique family in many ways," says Daniel Luria, Aterit Cohanim's director general. "They've done wonderful work for Jerusalem... and they've had involvement with us throughout the years."

Throughout the 1990s, as the United Nations condemned settlement in the conquered areas and President Bill Clinton urged peace, Moskowitz provided $35 million to some of the most right-wing organizations in Israel. Nearly $7 million went to an American Friends of Mercaz Harav Kook, which Mother Jones called the "intellectual leadership and core of the settler movement." Another $4.1 million streamed to the American Friends of the Everest Foundation, which builds homes across the West Bank. And $1.2 million was channeled to the One Israel Fund, another organization funding Israeli communities in the West Bank.

During the 1990 Gulf War, Jerry Levine helped Moskowitz fly a jumbo jet of Jews into Israel. Moskowitz wanted to flout warnings that Jews shouldn't enter the nation. "He's a defiant kind of guy," says Levine, who lives in Miami. "If you look at it from the U.S. perspective, he's not helping our policy, but he doesn't care what the U.S. policy is. He doesn't want anyone ever to know what he's doing... He's a powerful man. He doesn't stop. If he has a goal, he's going to achieve it."

But Moskowitz was only getting started. In 1996, when peace talks were at a delicate stage, he funded a tunnel under the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, spurring bloody riots that killed 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis. "He completely destroys any chance of peace," Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, recently told New Times. "Peace for him is threatening, and it's not that he's just funding settlements but he's supporting the most extreme settlements in Israel."

Around this time in Hawaiian Gardens, Navejas was beginning to realize Mosko­witz wasn't an affable father figure. In 1996, months after the assassination of dovish Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, reporters hounded her about the bingo club's owner. They questioned why she'd signed financial agreements with Moskowitz that granted the city only 1 percent of his club's revenues.

"I'd made a mistake," she says now. "I let him take complete advantage of a poor community that didn't understand, that wasn't sophisticated."

But by then, it was too late. Moskowitz owned the city. "Irving Moskowitz is 75 percent of our revenue," current Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Michael Gomez tells New Times. "We're really small, with no industry at all. And without Moskowitz, we'd only have property taxes."

Though Moskowitz at the time was pumping millions into charity in Hawaiian Gardens — the bogeymen label stuck. Protests swept the city.

He incensed the community even more in 1997 by evicting 16 destitute families living in a "row of clapboard apartment units set on a narrow asphalt alleyway," the Jewish Week reported. In all, more than 50 lawsuits were filed against Moskowitz and his holdings, ranging from allegations of negligence to failure to prevent discrimination. (New Times could discern dispositions in only 20 of these suits, 18 of which were dismissed. Two complaints filed in 2011, which allege failure to prevent discrimination at Hawaiian Gardens Casino, have entered arbitration. Messages left with Moskowitz's attorney, Beryl Weiner, weren't returned.)

In 2000, a committee of the California Legislature concluded that Moskowitz, ensconced hundreds of miles away in his Miami Beach mansion, had violated state law when he used the city's money to build a casino. "Hawaiian Gardens provides an example of what can go wrong when redevelopment is manipulated for the benefit of one individual rather than the community," the report said.

One day around this time, Navejas met the millionaire recluse, whom she hadn't seen in years. She recalls arriving at a downtown Los Angeles office and entering a Spartan conference room. There was Moskowitz, sitting demurely, hands clasped. He smiled and asked whether they could figure things out.

"My rose-colored glasses are off," she remembers saying. "And I'm not going to let you take this community."

Pain flashed in his gray eyes. "I thought we had a friendship," he murmured. "It's my money."

"It's the community's money," Navejas told him. "You got the license from us."

"It's my money," Moskowitz repeated. "And I'll do with it what I want."

And what Irving Moskowitz wanted, on a sun-washed morning in East Jerusalem decades later, was eviction.

At 8 o'clock that morning, several Israeli police cars stopped before a squat house and disgorged a dozen blue-uniformed officers onto the craggy earth. The settlers — tall, scraggly men — soon appeared, leathered faces scowling. In their hands was barbed wire.

A rotund and unshaven man named Khaled Hamdallah stepped out of his small house, the lone Palestinian residence near a cluster of ivory-colored Jewish condominiums. For years, the only thing that stopped the settlers from encroaching deeper into this crowded Arab neighborhood called Ras al-Amud, had been the Hamdallah family.

Khaled, age 46, settled a pair of black aviators onto his round face. The settlers, he saw, were just about to begin work.

They drilled one of Hamdallah's doors shut. Next, they slapped plastic over an entryway, sealing off that room for habitation. Relative Ahmed Hamdallah; his wife, Amani; and their 1-year-old son, Yazan, were all kicked out. The room now belonged to Irving I. Moskowitz and his settlers.

Last March, following a 17-year legal campaign that included four lawsuits in Israeli court, Moskowitz was awarded one room in the house. A judge decided the Hamdallahs had illegally added onto their house in the mid-1980s, violating city law.

More than a dozen reporters had arrived to cover any protest, but everything was calm. The scene was neither sudden nor lurid and reflected broader themes in the settler movement. It's slow encroachment: house by house, room by room. Moskowitz expended nearly two decades and thousands in legal fees to expel three people, to annex one room in one house for the settlers.

Now the Hamdallah family shares the house — which extends like boxcars in a train — with three settlers, who declined to comment when a New Times reporter approached them. "Moskowitz's money causes hatred," says Khaled Hamdallah, the family patriarch. "He's helping the Jews against the Arabs, and it causes hatred, even death."

Most days, the settlers and Hamdallah, even the children, maintain silence. Barbed wire divides the residences, stretching across the courtyard out front. The Israelis sometimes warn Hamdallah they plan to open a Jewish restaurant in the house. Trivial matters assume grand significance. There have been arguments over laundry cables, dogs, and loud music. "The settlers have guns," Khaled Hamdallah said recently. "If we do anything wrong, they'll say, 'The Arabs came and did this and they did that' and then they'll start coming after our kids.

"Would you want someone to invade your house?"

There was a moment, years ago, when it seemed as though Moskowitz would be stopped.

In 2001, a new California regulation required casino operators to undergo background checks to ensure they were of "good character." Larry Flint sailed through the proceedings. But drama concerning Irving Moskowitz saturated state gambling commission hearings for weeks, luring an unusual cast of characters.

Ed Asner, a 75-year-old star of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, wobbled into a commission meeting in 2004 and intoned: "We strongly question whether [Moskowitz] is a good character." Asner, raised Orthodox Jewish and chairman of the grassroots and nationwide, added, "Let Hawaiian Gardens go free."

But the commission granted Moskowitz a permanent license, and soon after, disbanded. Today, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a soft-spoken and gray-haired man who devoted a decade to, speaks of the bingo monarch with resignation. "He's an evil genius," Beliak says. "Israel is a failed Zionist dream. We have a homeland but no peace. Moskowitz isn't losing power."

If anything, he's strengthened. Since 2002, Cherna and Irving Moskowitz have dumped at least $52 million into organizations supporting the elimination of Palestine — nearly doubling what they gave in the 1990s. In the past four years alone, the Cherna Moskowitz Foundation has given $19.4 million. "The Moskowitz family has helped change the map of Jerusalem," family acquaintance Ronn Torossian says. "And the face of Jerusalem."

To be sure, Moskowitz isn't the only American to plunge big money into the explosive region. Ira Rennert, an investor living in Brooklyn, has also donated more than $10 million to Ateret Cohanim, the right-wing settlement group. Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas millionaire who bankrolled Newt Gingrich's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns, owns and pumps $20 million annually into the neoconservative paper Israel Hayom, the largest daily in the nation.

South Florida families besides Mosko­witz have also given big. Gita Galbut of Miami spearheaded a sprawling condominium complex for wealthy Jews in East Jerusalem named Nof Zion, and according to a resident comment board, neighboring Palestinians have stoned the buildings and residents. "The Arabs are frustrated they're not residents," says Gita Galbut's husband, David. When a New Times reporter asks whether frustration had emerged concerning Nof Zion's location, David Galbut replies without pause: "There is no Palestine. The Arabs that live in Israel are thriving. They love Israel." Referring to Nof Zion, he adds: "This wasn't political. It was for business." The complex faced bankruptcy in 2011.

Tax records from 2010 show the Falic family of Hollywood plowed nearly $1 million into organizations supporting settlements in occupied territories. The family declined both interviews and to release additional tax records.

But the full breadth of private U.S. investment in Israel — let alone the occupied territories — is nearly impossible to quantify. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazine says $1 billion channels to Israel every year in private American donations. Even that figure, however, is opaque. The U.S. government neither monitors American money to settlement groups nor wants to talk about it. The State Department didn't return requests for comment.

What's more, the Israeli government has long abetted if not encouraged settlement activity under the banner of security. Settlers pay lower taxes than other Israelis, can buy land at a discounted price, have free education from the age of 3, and are eligible for wide-ranging farming subsidies — none of which is available to their Arab neighbors.

To supporters of Moskowitz, any international push to restrict settlements infringes on Israel's sovereignty and constitutes racism. "Why can't a Jew buy a home in Jerusalem without getting negative attention? Dr. Moskowitz has done everything legally," Torossian says. "He's only guilty of loving the Jewish people."

And many Israelis love him back. Yisrael Medad, a gray-haired and -bearded settler who traded a Bronx residence for a swath of brown hills in the northern West Bank, says the gambling tycoon and others have enabled his communities to educate a burgeoning population of 60,000 residents. "He's one of the top partners in the establishment of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland," Medad says.

When clashes with Arabs erupt at Medad's settlement — which has occurred several times in the past two decades, killing eight Jews, including a 5-month-old child — men like Moskowitz provide some degree of security. "Our determination to live here isn't supposed colonialism. This is the Jewish national home. And we've done very well in increasing our presence."

Once, Moskowitz visited Medad and the others in the West Bank. But that was years ago, and today, Medad doesn't know what's happened to the reclusive bingo king.

Few people, in fact, do.

Irving Moskowitz has lived in Miami Beach for more than 30 years, but despite all of his clout in other parts of the nation and world, few in his home city have met him. He's a name, appearing in the newspapers and at the top of donor lists, but rarely manifested in flesh.

Along a narrow road hugging Biscayne Bay is a white Spanish mansion framed in red flowers. In front of Irving Moskowitz's house sits a Miami Beach squad car, parked to deter attempts at assassination. His mailbox lid drops to a conveyer belt that pulls notes behind the bunker's walls; this, by every account, is the only remaining way to contact the casino king.

Even his synagogue, Beth Israel in Miami Beach, couldn't provide any method to message Moskowitz. In the past decade, he has donated nearly $50,000 to the temple. But on a recent Friday afternoon, more than a dozen Jews streaming inside for the early Sabbath service say they either haven't seen him in years — or ever. "Irving Moskowitz?" says one stooped and balding man who declines to offer his name. "Never heard of him. Must not be religious, 'cause he never comes here."

Across the street at Temple Beth Sholom, Rabbi Gary Glickstein, energetic and affable, ponders the name over a steamed latte. "Really, Irving Moskowitz is a mystery," says Glickstein, one of the most prominent Jews in the city. "I've never seen him in Miami, and I've never seen him in Israel. I don't know anyone who knows him, and I've been a rabbi here for 27 years."

Once, you could spot him walking his Doberman pinscher along the roads of Miami Beach, says close family friend Gloria Bierman. Or you might glimpse him sitting outside his wife's Lincoln Road Judaica shop, the Carefully Chosen, on a Saturday night. But in the past 13 years, he hasn't given one interview and has restricted how often he's in public.

Part of this reticence is born of fear, says Bierman, who once owned an art gallery (also named the Carefully Chosen) with Cherna Moskowitz in the Design District. "You can't be naive and think [donating like the Moskowitzes] isn't a dangerous thing," Bierman says. "It's a very dangerous thing to do."

But Irving Moskowitz's disappearance also reflects that today, the element that carried him from the slums of Milwaukee to worldwide notoriety — his intellect — is gone. "Irving will be the longest-lived Alzheimer's victim of all time," brother-in-law Aaron Shovers says. "The mistake he made was he didn't think about shooting a bullet into his head when he could have done it. He's suffered for 20 years, and now he's just a plant in the corner."

While he's deteriorated, Moskowitz, whose foundation today has $47 million, remains influential on both sides of the ocean. In 2012, he plunged $1 million into Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads. And his son David, one of eight Moskowitz children, manages the gambling operations in California, every year sinking millions more into the foundation — likely ensuring Moskowitz's mission to secure Israel won't die with him.

In Israel, the issue of settlements continues to roil the country. Although President Obama said last week that Palestine "deserved" a unified state, there's little chance of that. Excluding East Jerusalem, more than 360,000 Jews now live in the West Bank; 30,000 were added in 2012 alone. Jewish settlers control 42 percent of all territory in the West Bank, according to a 2010 B'Tselem study, though they've built on only 1 percent of the land.

Even with the recent and surprising rise of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, which captured 19 Knesset seats in January's national elections, there's consensus among analysts that relations with Palestine won't change.

Settlement growth has transformed the Palestinian national movement. Dimitri Diliani, the scruffy Palestinian activist who protested against Moskowitz and the destruction of the Shepherd Hotel years ago, says a day will soon arrive when Palestine abandons its call for a two-state solution. Rather than pushing independence — it'll demand equity. "We want civil rights," he says.

But while Palestine writhes under occupation, far away on a recent morning, all was quiet at Irving Moskowitz's mansion. Inside, a group of friends had just arrived for a visit. Irving, now 85, sat in the courtyard enjoying the midmorning sun. He wore slacks, a cream-colored button-down, and a yarmulke, Bierman remembers.After a moment, Moskowitz rose and walked slowly across the courtyard. As Cherna followed a few paces behind, he sang an old Hebrew song, sun on his face, and clapped his hands.

Melanie Lidman and Gil Kezwer contributed reporting from Jerusalem. Ali Stack contributed research.

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Terrence McCoy's lengthy piece is full of half-truths, errors and omissions.The article's subtitle absurdly implies that Palestinians would have had a state if it hadn't been for the settlements and the support of the Moskowitz family. The truth is that the Palestinian Authority was offered 95% of the disputed territory, including parts of Jerusalem, multiple times, and they turned it down.The Palestinian Authority has never officially removed its call for Israel's destruction from its charter; their leaders refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and the entire map of Israel, minus Israeli cities, is used to designate “Palestine.”Other pre-conditions to peace negotiations were imposed by Palestinian leaders, such as demanding the "right of return" which could potentially flood Israel with an estimated 5,000,000 Arabs (over 10 times the approx. 472,000 Arabs who fled during the 1948 British Mandate), thus making Jews a minority within Israel. Unlike these refugees, for whom the UN set up a separate refugee organization, UNWRA, approximately 850,000 Jews who were forced to flee Arab lands after having their citizenship stripped (some communities dated back 2500 years), leaving behind their homes, businesses and property, were never given proper recognition or compensation.Many of the properties purchased by the Moskowitz family were previously owned by Jews before the land was taken over by Jordan following the war of 1948.The Arab League, led by Qatar, recently announced that they intend to invest US$1 billion to explore Islamic roots in Jerusalem. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have poured millions of dollars into buying up property all over Israel, something McCoy should have pointed out.Meanwhile, Jordan, with a Palestinian Arab majority, denies them self-determination. And the other 21 Arab states refuse to allow Palestinian Arabs to become citizens.While approximately 1.2 million of Israel's citizens are Arab (with full citizenship rights and privileges and representation in the Israeli Knesset [Parliament], a future Palestinian Arab state would be completely free of Jews, as stated by their foreign minister and all official government declarations. I can’t think of a more blatant form of discrimination and apartheid.In writing a truthful article about Dr. Irving Moskowitz and his wife, Cherna, it behooves the author to balance his report with mention of the wonderful benefits the Moskowitz family has bestowed on so many Israelis who have enjoyed their philanthropy. Painting a picture that draws sympathy for Husseini, the Arab Nazi who worked with Hitler, rather than devoted Zionists like the Moskowitz family who have contributed so much to Israel and America, is mean-spirited and destructive. McCoy should lend his talents to some positive purposes.


Your article titled "Home Invasion" is full of half truths and falsehoods starting with your story about the Shefer Hotel. Check your facts: Far from being destroyed, the home of al-Husseini has been declared a "historical" site and remains totally intact.


I am fortunate enough to live in Old City of Jerusalem and work at the Jerusalem Heritage House. The support the Moskowitz Family gives to our community here is incredible! Is there something wrong with Jews helping other Jews in Jerusalem? great family, stupid and extremely biased article!


So I attempted to read this article to see if i could learn more about the situation in the Middle East. After 6 pages, the only conclusion I've been able to make is that this paper must pay its writers by the word. How is this a cover story?


This article is saying that Moskowitz is stealing land from Palestine. Palestine was created, true, but it still wasn't an independant palestinian muslim state, it was controlled by the british. In history, there was never an independant palestinian muslim state and nobody can deny that.About biblical times, there was none also. There was a kingdom of Israel for about 1000 years, then the roman occupiers came and changed the name to Palestine and expulsed the jewish population. Then, for about 1600 years, there was never an independant palestinian state to replace it, it's as if the land that G.od promised to the hebrews could not be given to anyone else (a miracle that lasted 1600 years !). Had there be a non-jewish state in 1948, Israel could have never been created. Yes, there was different empires that controlled the palestinian region: Byzantine, Persian, Umayyads, Abbasids, Crusaders, ottoman, british. But they never made it as an independant country.


What a joke of an article. This article represents the new Anti-Semitism. "No I dont hate the Jews, I just hate Israel". To blame the lack of peace in Israel on an old Philanthropic Jew that makes charitable contributions to Israel is a total sham. The author that wrote this slanted and pathetic article should be ashamed unless it was his clear intention to mislead. No mention of the fact that Israel was attacked over an over by their Arab neighbors with an intention to destroy it. No mention of the rejection of peace offer after peace offer, even up to the Oslo peace accords where Arafat said "No" to half of Jerusalem the west bank and Gaza. No mention of the years of terror attacks and rocket attacks that continue to this day that have caused the separation of the two people. This article shows that even in the USA, the undercurrent of Anti semitism is alive and kicking. Shame on the Miami New Times for not fact checking and allowing this article to be printed.Edit (6 minutes)


Short observation here: Obama and UN condemn settlements but that's no surprise. What's fascinating are these groups like J street and Americans for Peace Now, which are comprised of Israeli public figures, scholars, rabbis, and loads of Jewish Americans. I'm sure everyone here knows about these groups' anti-settlement, 2-state advocating agenda, but what makes these groups prevail in DC? No reason to get angry when such groups are brought up, but it often happens in message boards like this one. It appears that Jews on this issue are of differing consciences- will Jews and Israelis ever be on the same page with respect to mid-east peace?


As a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Director of the Jerusalem Heritage House, I cannot express how much gratitude I have to the Moskowitz Family for all they have done for Jerusalem. My guests, my neighbors, my family and myself are the recipients of the generosity and vision of the Moskowitz family on a daily basis! Jerusalem has benefitted tremendously from their support and ridiculous, mean-spirited articles like this nonsense won't change that!!!


Dear Editor,

I read the recent article South Florida Millionare Thwarts Middle East Peace of March 28, 2013.

I had to reread the article to double check my astonishment, that an article containing so many untruths and biases could actually be printed.

Where do I start? Lets start at the beginning.

Let's discuss the Shepherd hotel. Contrary to the authors claim, the building is neither a Palestinian heritage or a biblical site ( a biblical site, please, the villa was built in the early 1900s ). It was built for the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an anti Semite, and a confidant of Adolph Hitler, who never even lived there. The site is a piece of property bought and sold like any piece of property anywhere else. And after many years of frivolous court challenges, the Israeli Supreme Court, not known as a friend of who you call the Settlers, decided that it was legally purchased by Dr. Irving Moskowitz, who could do whatever he wanted, with his property.

And it is because of a single individual in Miami Beach that there is no peace in the Middle East?

The last time I checked, I was told there is no peace because the Palestinian Authority refuses to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish State, that the PA continues to honor the memory of terrorists and suicide bombers, that the textbooks in all PA schools, starting from the earliest grades, teach that Jihad against the Jews is the ultimate religious experience, etc. There is no peace in the Middle East because the Palestinians hate the Jews more than they love their own lives. If I recall correctly, Israeli Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak offered the PA more than 97% of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, and the offer was rejected. Dr. Moskowitz was not a factor.

Dr. Moskowitz's endeavors in Israel have given young Israeli couples places to live, to raise a family. And for that, he is respected. Your writer derides Dr. Moskowitz because he single handed, boosted the Jewish population in greater Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, (yes, those areas are true biblical landmarks) from 10,000 to half a million. I wish I could credit Dr. Moskowitz for that growth, but, lets be honest, no one person can be responsible for such 500% growth. And no group of individuals could imagine such growth without full support of the Israeli government.

Why is it that the author blames Dr. Moskowitz for the death of an Arab who indirectly sold him a piece of property in "East" Jerusalem? Why doesn't your author do an exposé on the Palestinian Authority law that says its a capital offense to sell property to Jews? And your author writes, "in the past two decades, dozens if Palestinians have been executed secretly, others publically and legally". Where is the international outcry, where is the UN, where are all the human rights organizations? To execute someone "legally" because he sold land to a Jew? And to blame Dr. Moskowitz for the poverty status of that Arab's family? Where is the International Red Cross, and all those outspoken human rights groups? Where is all the billions of dollars in aid that the United States and European Union countries have given to the Palestinian people?

Then there is Hawaiin Gardens and the bingo clubs.

Have your readers been to that small town, I have. Dr. Moskowitz and his bingo clubs are the biggest supporters of the local service organizations, local health organizations, after school programs, and the list continues. The bingo clubs account for the majority of the taxes in the city; without Dr. Moskowitz one cannot even imagine what the city would look like, if it would still exist at all. The typical resident of Hawaiin Gardens is beholden to the charity and good heart of Dr. Moskowitz in areas the residents don't even realize. And the knowledgeable Hawaiin Gardens city official is very appreciative of Dr. Moskowitz's contributions to their city.

Your author seems to have dug up, from the graveyards of history, individuals who became involved in the anti Moskowitz campaign.

The people behind the stopMoskowitz website are such people. Your author should do an expose on them and their endeavors. Who paid them all those years, who underwrote their organization, where have they been for the last decade, etc. I suggest the answers would put serious doubt on their credibility.

And with regard to Dr. Moskowitz and family, they are well known in their community. Well known and well respected. They have many friends and have many visitors.

They are beloved by many Americans and many Israelis. They just have a different definition of Zionism than your writer does, a definition respected by many of us.


Historians say that peace talks between Arafat, Clinton and Barak failed, not because of the settlements, but because the Palestinians didn't want to give up the right of return. The settlements were not a problem because Israel wanted to retain the major settlement blocks and give the Palestinians the same surface as these settlements inside Israel and palestinians agreed with that. But, the right of return for the Palestinians meant that millions of Palestinians worldwide could flood Israel and as a result, Israel would have a Muslim majority. This would have been a 2 state solution with 2 states muslim in majority. Then, the talks between Olmert and Abbas failed, not because of the settlements, but because of the right of return. Today, in 2013, the Arabs STILL want two Muslim states. In addition, most of the populations in United States (including you, Terrence McCoy) and Europe doesn't understand why the Middle East peace process cannot succeed because of this right of return. So, instead of a caricature showing a star of David stealing a house, why not show a cross hiding the truth ?
Also, hardly anyone (except the Jews) knows that there was more Jewish refugees from Arab countries than Palestinian refugees worldwide.


New Times I applaud your mostly fair article but to blame a jew for preventing peace by helping other jews own property in Israel the Jewish homeland is ridiculous. Deep in your article is almost hidden the fact that the punishment for selling land to a jew is DEATH, yes death, and you support the "rights" of "Palestinian government" or people to KILL their own for selling land to a jew? Moskowitz has given millions to charity in the U.S. as well as in Israel and instead of giving the philanthropist credit you brand him as an extremist. What about the people who actually do the killing, aren't they to blame equally if not more? Also hidden in your article is the fact that he suffers from Alzheimer's, how would you feel if it was your parent who had the disease and NT was accusing them of being a recluse and refusing to comment on this article, I think someone of his age and condition deserves respect and privacy! I think your article was fair but it gives way too many uninformed people ammunition for hate. Good article BUT how would you feel if it was your ill parent being asked for a comment on this article? or if your landlord was killed for renting to you? Probably not so good?


The ugly side of American capitalism is exposed once more. How tragic. This American has the values of those who directed the holocaust against Jews in Europe. I am shocked and dismayed.


The writer of this biased artcle, Terrence McCoy, is the torch himself. Moskowitz is not even close to be the reason for the 'unrest' in the Middle Esat, but arcticles like this, spreading lies and using words like 'aparthaid' are. YOU ARE BEING USED by palestinian propaganda to spread the HATE that arabs in general (and not just only palestinians) have 'institutionalized' against the jewish people and against the jewish Estate. 

A TWO ESTATE SOLUTION will be possible the day Arabs STOP FUELLING HATE through the palestinians and ACCEPT the right to exist of the jewish people and its historical and legal right to their land, Israel - jewish people are prepared to share the land - in the sake of real peace.

If there is a settlement in any disputed land, good for the part that will inherit it already improved via diplomatic negotiations. Once the real 'aparthaid' enforcers become educated enough, and reasonable enough to realize that other people with other religions, colors and life styles have the right to exist, PEACE will be POSSIBLE for it is at reach.


It's called paid propaganda not journalism.


It is heartbreaking what this man is doing to the peace process. The story about Hamdallah's house literally being invaded is sickening. Israel needs to stop its apartheid and listen to the demands of the international community (the UN, EU, and US have all demanded it stop its illegal settlements) before it gets more and more isolated.


I recall the telephone interview (my description by Terence is from a photograph btw, as we never met).  His questions seemed to reveal not only a strong animosity but a pretend ignorance.  I would suggest there was also non-pretend ignorance since I moved to Israel in 1970 from Queens NY.  I last lived in The Bronx in 1954.  Just two comments.

a) This claim: "To critics, this was a breach of international law: An accord signed at the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 held that no nation can "transfer" its own civilian populations into an occupied territory."   This is misconstrued.  In any case, since thousands of Jews lived in the area that Israel administers beyond its sovereign borders prior to 1948, at which time they were ethnically cleansed, and that area was originally to become the territory of the Jewish National Home as per the international law of the League of Nations in 1922, that "crime" of "transfer of population" is completely non-applicable.

b)  As for this claim, that Moskowitz money is "supporting the elimination of Palestine", let's be clear, there is no "Palestine" and there never was, as a geo-political entity.  If there is an Arab Palestine, it is Jordan, which was part of the Mandate area.  To be fair, I will go on record as saying that the creation of such a state would be a great security danger for Israel, would undermine regional stability, would continue to oppress its own population as well as cojoin with terror groups either Iran-supported or al-Quaida oriented.  Nothing truly positive could develop.


Which planet is this writer on? Does anyone really believe that MidEast piece hinges on Jews building homes  and not on Israel's neighbors who don't even acknowledge her right to exist?

dantevida topcommenter

It is time suspend the $billions in annual US aid to Israel until they halt settlements in desputed territory, It is blatantly illegal and against US policy.


how is this the cover of your magazine? you cant attach an entire religion to the settlements. and how can you even begin to care about the middle east when your coverage is so spare? and to publish this the week of passover? you guys are such a journalistic nightmare.


its shocking that you'd run this garbage. then again, it's also not.

dantevida topcommenter

@kitkat945 The settlements continue contrary to US policy and in the face of American presidents and secretaries of state requesting them to stop.  Why should the US continue to provide $billions in aid to a nation that flaunts our policies.  Stop US aid to Israel until illegal settlements in disputed territory ceases.  An interesting article would be where our $billions in annual aid to Israel end up. 


Not exactly!  The right of return and two arab states is not the final solution that the arabs seek.  It is only the next step.  The final solution is the annihilation of the Nation of Israel and the extermination of the Jews.  That is the arab's express policy, and, it has never changed. 

The notion that one American Jew, who bought some real estate in Israel and elects to demolish it, is the barrier to peace in Israel is the epitome of yellow journalism. 


You have no idea what you're talking about. 

This has nothing to do with American capitalism, ugly as it is.  It has to do with the rabid, religious hatred that arab muslims have for Jews.  Religious hatred so bitter that they indescriminately fire rockets in to civilian Israeli neighborhoods (a war crime), for the purpose of murdering civilian Jews, from among their own women and children who they use as human shields (another war crime), and, who brainwash their own children to harbor such rabid religious hatred of Jews (who they are trained to refer to as "apes and pigs"), that they willingly blow themselves to pieces just for the opportunity to murder a few Jews.

Say again, whose values are more like those who directed the Holocaust?

dantevida topcommenter

@ilanakrauss Oh, please-the Palestinian propaganda machine?  The Israeli's have institutionalized settlement of disputed territory, thus becoming targets of Palestinian rage, not to mention being contrary to US policies.   Why can't they be content to exist without the continutd displacement of Palestinians.  The US should withhold the $billions in annual aid to Israel until the illegal settlements cease.


@basurero i don't think the author ever blames all Jews or Judaism for the settlements; he's very clear when he mentions Moskowitz and right wing groups as the problem.


@dantevida @kitkat945 Even if the settlements stopped growing, peace would be impossible as long as palestinians persist in asking for the right of return, which means the end of Israel as a jewish state. From 1948 to 1967, Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank. Why didn't they give Gaza and the West bank to their muslim palestinian brothers ? Because in history, a palestinian muslim state never existed. The only ones who were offering a state to the palestinians were not muslim but jewish and this happened in 2000 with Ehud Barak, and later with Ehud Olmert. But the palestinians refused because they were more interested in the end of Israel as a jewish state. So Obama is smarter that you, he understands that the settlements are not the main obstacle to the peace process.


@dantevida @ilanakrauss WITH or WITHOUT settlements, the Jewish people and Estate ARE the TARGET of Palestinian rage - for the mere reason they insist to exist...

dantevida topcommenter

@kitkat945 @dantevida you need to review your history.  after WWI  Palestine was created under the British Mandate and existed until 1948 when there was an attempt to partition Palestine which failed and finally resulted in the Arab/Israeli war.  The area occupied by "Palestinians" also goes back to biblical times and earlier.  Obama, by the way has called for a halt to illegal settlements in disputed territories.

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