Who Runs Philly? Part 5: Philadelphia real estate developer and top city council donor Joseph Zuritsky has ties to right-wing, anti-Muslim organization

Who Runs Philly? is an ongoing project from Philly Power Research focused on highlighting the powerful people, organizations, businesses, and interest groups that shape Philadelphia. In the lead-up to the May 2019 primary, we’ll be paying special attention to who’s spending big in local races. This post focuses on local real estate developer Joseph Zuritsky’s ties to the anti-Muslim Middle East Forum, as well as the politicians he invests in. To explore campaign finance data on your own, check out our tool: The Philadelphia Campaign Finance Data Explorer

In the wake of the horrific Christchurch Mosque Shootings, there has been renewed scrutiny on the network of anti-Muslim organizations that promote Islamophobia in the U.S. and abroad.

One of those anti-Muslim organizations is The Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank “at the center” of an Islamophobia network, according to the Center for American Progress. Middle East Forum has close ties to Philadelphia real estate developer and local power broker Joseph Zuritsky, who has been involved with the group since its founding.

A recent Sludge article described Middle East Forum in detail:  

The forum “promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats” and “protects the freedoms of anti-Islamist authors,” according to its website. Middle East Forum funded anti-Muslim rallies in London last year for formerly incarcerated Islamophobe Tommy Robinson, even paying for U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to travel there and speak at a rally.

 “The Middle East Forum is one of the longest-standing and most nefarious organizations in America when it comes to purveying anti-Muslim hate in America,” Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, previously told Sludge.

Joseph Zuritsky, the founder and chairman of real estate company Parkway Corporation and the political dark money group Philadelphia 3.0, is a member of the Middle East Forum’s Founders Board. He has been involved with the organization since 1999 and was the organization’s founding Chairman in Philadelphia.  Up until last year, he was a member of the group’s Board of Governors.

Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes is one of the most prominent Islamophobes in the U.S. Again, according to Sludge:

The Southern Poverty Law Center stops short of labeling Middle East Forum a hate group, but it has written about founder Daniel Pipes’ anti-Muslim rhetoric. In 2017, Pipes expressed a false sentiment often circulated by white nationalists: “Muslim immigrants want to replace existing European civilization with Islam.” In his lengthy manifesto, a New Zealand white nationalist terrorist said that this alleged “white genocide” motivated him to gun down 50 worshiping Muslims on March 15, 2019.

“Pipes is one of the biggest purveyors of anti-Muslim ideas in the U.S.,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Sludge. “He has endorsed internment based on the Japanese model for Muslims and spread false rumors of ‘no-go zones’ in Europe where non-Muslims are not allowed. In general, his defamation of Muslims and spreading of conspiracy theories about them is vile, and his comments should not be taken seriously.”

As Philly Power Research has previously noted, Zuritsky, with his son Robert, is perhaps the single most prolific donor to Philadelphia city council. Last year alone, he contributed $29,250 to current city councilors and city council candidates (Robert contributed an additional $13,000), and the two combined have contributed over $157,000 to current city councilors since 2014.

Parkway Corporation, Zuritsky’s company, started out primarily operating parking lots, but has become a major player in commercial and residential real estate development. Parkway buys surface parking lots, holds onto them, and then--when they see the opportunity for profit--turns the parking lots into mega developments with luxury apartments,office space, and retail space. They have been particularly active in the North Broad area, developing mixed-use projects at Broad and Callowhill and Broad and Spring Garden.

Parkway may be in the news more in the coming months, as parking lot workers in the city have begun to organize for higher wages, better benefits, and a union.

Zuritsky is also the founder of Philadelphia 3.0, one of the city’s biggest “dark money” groups that also recruits and backs candidates for city office.

The graphic below shows the city councilors and city council candidates who Joseph and Robert Zuritsky contributed to last year.