South Florida Millionaire Irving Moskowitz's Millions Thwart Middle East Peace

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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.

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 stopmoskowitz.org, added, "Let Hawaiian Gardens go free."

But the commission granted Moskowitz a permanent license, and soon after, stopmoskowitz.org disbanded. Today, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, a soft-spoken and gray-haired man who devoted a decade to stopmoskowitz.org, 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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