In embracing Hamas last week in direct defiance of the wishes of Congress and the President, ex-President Jimmy Carter raised the question of why he was granting precious prestige and credibility to an organization the U.S. government has designated a "foreign terrorist organization" since 1995.
If he was hoping to rekindle a flagging peace process, Carter's trip was doomed to failure; Hamas remains committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. So does this trip merely reflect a tremendous lack of judgment on Carter's part?
Perhaps the answer is more complicated. You see, the Carter Center, the ex-President's not-for-profit research and activist organization, has prospered over the years as a direct result of Arab largesse. Many of these "charitable" interests support Islamic fundamentalism and are vehemently anti-Israel.
The full extent of these connections is unknown because the amount and source of the Carter Center's funding is not public. But from various news reports and press releases, one can begin to sketch a very troubling picture.
For example, Saudi Arabia, the source of 15 of the 19 plane hijackers on 9/11 and whose royal family has funded terrorism outside the kingdom, has channeled tens of millions of dollars into the Carter Center over the years. In 1993 alone, the late King Fahd gifted $7.6 million, while more recently, the king's nephew, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, donated at least $5 million to the Carter Center. The Carter Center has a $36 million annual budget; these amounts are hardly insignificant to its ongoing operations.
Another million-dollar-plus backer is Sultan Qaboos sin Said, monarch of Oman. Considerable financial support comes from the United Arab Emirates as well.
There's more. In 2001, Carter received the $500,000 Zayed International Prize for the Environment and, the following year, praised the efforts of the Abu Dhabi-based Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow Up.
The Zayed Center has repeatedly hosted anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, supported terrorism and asserted that there is an international conspiracy of Jews and Zionists for world domination, and that a Jewish-American conspiracy perpetrated the atrocities of 9/11.
It would seem that all of this money is not without its influence. Contrast Carter's relentless criticism of Israel, the most modern and democratic country in the Middle East, to his appreciation of such authoritarian countries as the UAE, which he described as an "almost completely open and free society."
Whether the United States can or should interrupt this stream of funding to Carter's operations, it at the very least should not supplement it.
Yet - believe it or not - the United States government itself has been providing millions of dollars to the Carter Center over the years. Representative Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) estimates that the center received $19 million in federal funding since 2001 alone, and has called for passage of a bill that would immediately cut off all federal financing for the center.
Carter is free to travel around the world, stir up trouble, and cheer on terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. But U.S. taxpayers should not help him do this. And Carter should finally come clean and disclose the amounts and sources of all foreign funding for his center.
Just as the American public has a right to know whether a scientist researching the root causes of global warming is being funded by major oil companies, we should know who is supporting Carter's lobbying efforts to bring "peace" to the Middle East.
It is indeed a sad day in American history when a former President lowers himself to becoming a propaganda tool for terrorists bent on harming our country and the democratic principles by which we live - and we cannot even discover who is paying his bills.
Greif is president & CEO of Greif & Co., an investment bank, and a director of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.