Following my last post shining a spotlight on his Nazi fancy dress – particularly troubling in light of his endorsement of an antisemitic comment on a Facebook page he runs – AMZ Productions (of Oregon) owner Jesse Locke quietly removed both the antisemitic comment and the offending photo.
No apology or repudiation of antisemitism, mind you. Just cowardly ass covering. Thankfully, I screenshotted both the comment and photo in case of this eventuality, so the evidence remains.
Meanwhile, commenter kweansmom discovered another troubling aspect to this story.
It seems his anti-Israel documentary was funded – at least partly – by an outfit called Rise Up.
Rise Up went fundraising for this project, raising a measly $560 of $5000. But they did it seemingly under false pretenses.
For the past three years Rise Up has been building peace in the Arabic world by giving youth a voice through the arts. We believe that our project is a ripple that can become a positive wave of change in the region. We will be documenting inspirational moments and characters from our trip in partnership with Jesse Locke from AMZ Productions.
This sounds like an apolitical project to document inspirational people and moments. Not the anti-Israel propaganda film that it seems to be.
But it gets worse. You see, Rise Up needn’t worry too much that their fundraising efforts fell flat. They have a big backer.
The result is the powerful film PUSH Tunisia, screened at BendFilm this year, but more than that, the trip became the foundation for Roberts’ determination to teach street art to kids in the Middle East. His hope: that through art young people will become leaders and vocal advocates for change.
“That’s where I started thinking, ‘What do I want to do?’ ” said Roberts.
At the same time, his work was catching the eye of some big backers. Now he’s got the U.S. Department of State behind him.
“Basically, they were like, do you want to coordinate more projects throughout the Middle East?” said Roberts.
The answer was yes.
On the dime of the State Department, in the last year Roberts has been back to Tunisia two more times, most recently, to Jordan and Palestine—where he arrived on the first day of the November conflict between Hamas and Israel.
It’s this power of graffiti to inspire that makes Roberts’ work for the State Department seem to be a bit of a conundrum at first.
In one photo Roberts shared with the Source, he stands with several young people in front of a stenciled image of a man with a fist in the air. The words say “For Freedom, Rise Up.”
But Roberts’ work on behalf of the U.S. government with kids in Tunisia, Palestine and Jordan isn’t about inspiring revolt, he said. It’s about leadership development, education and learning how to communicate in nonviolent ways.
Still, street art has the power to inflame, as Roberts and Va-Jo said it did in Tunisia.
To learn more about what the U.S. government is trying to get at by funding these art workshops we got in touch with Rachel Leslie, cultural affairs officer for the American Consulate General in Jerusalem, a proponent of Roberts’ work in the region.
She requested that we email our questions. Her answers were then vetted by the State Department back in D.C., she said. Naturally, what we received back was very polished and diplomatic-sounding. Still, we got the gist.
“Programs like Jesse’s are incredibly important because they connect Americans with Palestinians,” she wrote. “Often they help counter misperceptions about the U.S. and about American culture, and create positive impressions about Americans, our society, and our values.”
For Roberts, receiving this government funding to teach Palestinians to communicate messages about their feelings has been strange and has prompted questions in his own mind. Israel is just over the border from the walls he was painting, a prosperous nation that enjoys protection and support from the United States. But in Palestine and in Jordan, he saw refugee camps swollen with people living in terrible squalor.
“I’ve been all over the world,” said Roberts. “I’ve never encountered anything like this. It is a military state. It just blew me away. In this day and age—it just blew me away.”
Yet, there he was, in what he described as an “apartheid” situation stenciling Rise Up murals on the walls in Palestinian territory with the full support of the American government behind him.
By the way, Jesse Roberts is the guy in the middle here, smiling, with the kaffiyeh wrapped around his forehead.
Rise Up’s 2013 form 990 submitted to the IRS indicates it received $46,000 in grants that year to promote “peace and social awareness through educational programs for underprivileged populations in Egypt, Oman, Morocco and Barcelona.” No mention of “Palestine.”
In the form 990 for 2012, the year in which Rise Up traveled to Israel per the above article, there is no mention of work in “Palestine.” There is, however, mention of a grant of $21,067 for promoting “social justice and increased awareness for various underprivileged populations in Nicaragua and India.” Again, no mention of “Palestine.”
So while it is not clear exactly how much the US State Department has been funding them, one can assume it is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
And by funding Rise Up, and through them AMZ Productions of Oregon, the State Department is funding those who glamorize violence against Israel, the exploitation of children and placing them in potential harm’s way, as well as the demonization of Israel.
You can contact the State Department here to let them know your disapproval of this allocation of their funds:
Contact form: https://register.state.gov/contactus/