Agri-Business fortune behind SpinWatch

When the super-wealthy Jallad Group chairman, set up a secret fund to channel money into green advocacy groups, that story ought to have been uncovered by a project dedicated to uncovering corporate spin. But SpinWatch will not be exposing the Jallad Group’s clandestine support for NGOs, because SpinWatch gets its funds from Ayman Jallad’s Isvara Foundation.

SpinWatch’s major backer, the Isvara Foundation is a fund based in Zurich, from the fortune of Ayman Jallad, head of the Lebanese-based tractor company, the Jallad Group. The Jallad Group began life as an import company M. Ezzat Jallad & Fils in 1873. In 1929, Jallad became sole importer for the Caterpillar Company – and later their rivals Hyster, too – exporting agricultural equipment across the Middle East. Today the Jallad Group has offices in Jordan and in Palestine.

Ezzat Jallad & Fils was recognised as an important US commercial ally in the region, getting U.S. government ‘Point IV’ funding under the Eisenhower programme.[1] Ezzat Jallad & Fils features in the Survey of American interests in the Middle East, from 1953 (p 38-9), right through to the Middle East Economic Digest, 1977 (p 4, 55).

The Jallad fortune was made by industrialising Middle Eastern farms with American-made tractors.

In the 1990s, though, Group president Ayman Jallad was more critical of western influence in the region. Ayman set up many Non-Governmental Organisations as a front for Middle Eastern businesses.

In 1993 Ayman Jallad started the Humanitarian Group for Social Development, saying ‘We believe that the rules of global trade are tweaked in the favour of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the environment.’ HGSD distributed the Ecologist to universities in Lebanon.[2]

Jallad also led the ‘Lebanon is Not For Sale’ group, which wants to ‘Ensure food sovereignty & protect agriculture’, ‘Stop de-industrialization & protect emerging markets’ and ‘Reform the public sector & keep basic services public’ (governments being key Jallad Group clients). Having grown rich holding the monopoly of Caterpillar and Hyster tractors, the Jallad Group stood to lose out under the more liberal WTO rules.

In 2001, heady with the fame his activism was bringing, Ayman Jallad wrote an open letter to his fellow NGO activists:

‘We have seen some excellent work done by civil society, NGOs, groups all over the world, I see them as the consciousness of the planet. Now, is it enough that they be just that? or could they be more?

It seems that they need to be more, they should be the AGENT FORCING CHANGE…’

What was the problem that Jallad thought NGOs should be addressing? It was the rise in wages that threatened his profits: ‘one of the things is changing the consumption pattern of people’, he worried: ‘we cannot survive long continuing in the way we consume’.

The complaint seems a bit graceless since the Jallad Group fortune was built on agri-business. But in Ayman Jallad’s imagination, the poor were massing outside his mansion: ‘we cannot survive long with humanity increasing the way it is’.[3]

In 2007, Ayman Jallad set up the Isvara Foundation that has been on a worldwide shopping spree, buying up NGOs, with big donations not just to SpinWatch, but also to Friends of the Earth, Corporate Europe Observatory and Carbon Trade Watch.

‘Transparency’ is a goal for the Isvara Foundation – but not one that if follows. The fund is secretly administered by the World Development Movement in the UK, and by UBS in Zurich. ‘Unsolicited approaches are not welcomed’, and emails are not replied to.

The businesses that Ayman Jallad does want to uncover are the ‘American Jewish lobby’, responsible in his eyes ‘for all kinds of mass murder and human rights abuse’: ‘When will civil society, media and the world will shine the light on their behavior?’[4]

Maybe it is not surprising to hear a Lebanese businessman raging against Jews. What is shocking is that a University-based project like SpinWatch is willing to draw up lists of Jews to shore up those paranoid delusions.


[1] Irene Gendzier, Notes from the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-58, 1998, Westview Press, p 109

[2] http://hgsd.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=&Itemid=57

[3] Ayman Jallad ‘NGOs and Civil Society’, November 29, 2001  http://www.aquaac.org/UNtalk/free/messages/11.html

[4] Ayman Jallad, 4 October 2007, http://www.spectrezine.org/node/384

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