We were talking about the Hawaiian kingdom. His apparent prestigious involvement in the sovereignty movement intrigued me. But everywhere I looked for information I met dead-ends.
“You’re talking to the prime minister,” he said. “That should be sufficient.”
“You’re the current prime minister?” I said. “I thought you said you were the former prime minister.”
“Yes, well I’m the former and the current prime minister of the interim government of the Kingdom of Hawai`i,” he said. “And if you don’t believe me, I can see that we won’t be getting anywhere in this conversation.”
That was the end of my second interview with Charles John Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam, a non-partisan candidate running for Daniel Akaka’s U.S. Senate seat. A few days later he called me back and gave me the names and phone numbers of two other men involved in the interim government who could vouch for him. Multiple attempts to contact these gentlemen went nowhere.
So I called Henry Noa, the current prime minister of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation. Noa said that while he knew Amsterdam, he was certainly not part of Noa’s government.
“Besides, how can you claim to be part of one country and then participate in the political processes of another country?” Noa asked. “I think he might be a little confused.”
That made two of us. After three extensive phone interviews and nearly a dozen hours of research, I still can’t say for certain how Amsterdam pays the rent, who he works with, why the non-profit foundation he leads exists or how much of what he says I should believe. He is a confusing, yet admittedly likeable and probably well-intentioned, enigma.
Let’s start with the time I asked him what he does for a living. “Various things,” he said. “I am the president of the Zionland Foundation to promote cultural understanding, education, development and peace.” He added that he’s “an educator” with “eight degrees” that include such disciplines as dentistry and Jewish theology as well as a “follower of Jesus.”
According to Amsterdam, he first participated in the Zionland Foundation in Peace Corps-type projects in Greece and Israel at least a decade ago. He said he had coordinated transporting used dental equipment to needy areas in Greece and had helped to organize a Peace and Culture Day in Israel, in which various cultural groups—Jews, Arabs and other cultures—convened together for a day of music, culture and food. “It was like a big luau,” Amsterdam said.
But what exactly the foundation does is hard to say. The IRS lists the foundation as a tax-exempt organization based in Honolulu at the same building Amsterdam listed in his candidate application papers as his own mailing address.
In the foundation’s 2003 income tax return the organization reported having earned less than $25,000 during that fiscal year. On that form, Amsterdam reported receiving no compensation from the Foundation. Other than a couple of letters Amsterdam had written on Zionland Foundation letterhead, I could find no mention of the organization anywhere.
In a follow-up interview with Amsterdam, he said the Zionland Foundation was an international organization founded in 1983 to promote cultural understanding and peace. He said it had most recently organized conferences to promote the advancement of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It also, he said, was helping to organize a “Prayer and Fellowship Day” at Iolani Palace that Saturday (July 23, 2006) in order to pray for peace—especially in the Middle East. Neither the Honolulu Advertiser nor the Star-Bulletin had any listings for anything like that.
As far as being an “educator,” Amsterdam holds no position as an actual teacher or professor. But he did say that the Zionland Foundation worked with a program called Education Direct, promoting distance learning to certify people rather than their spending the money to get a degree from a university. Further inquiries into Education Direct revealed that it was a University of Phoenix-type operation offering correspondence courses. It made no mention of Amsterdam or the Zionland Foundation.
Then there’s the matter of Amsterdam’s income. “Could you tell me about your source of income?” I asked him during our third interview.
“Well, sure,” he said. “There are different aspects of it. There are investments, and real estate, and jobs.”
“What sort of jobs are you talking about?” I said.
“Well, there are all sorts of ways one could seek employment,” he said. “Students at the UH Medical School have coordinated with social services to provide jobs-”
“Was this a project through the Zionland Foundation?”
“No, no. This was different.”
“Are you involved in this project at all?”
“No, but let me answer your first question,” he said. “People are referring others to jobs-”
“I understand the concept of employment,” I said. “How do you generate income?”
Amsterdam became flustered. “Do you ask everyone you interview this question?” he asked.
“How they make money?” I said, incredulous. “Yeah. Most people just tell me what their job is. Seeing how you run a non-profit and are running for public office, I think it’s a fair question.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well there are contributions, investments and bank notes. Yeah, that’s enough.”
Serves me right for asking such a simple question.
Another project close to Amsterdam’s heart is what he refers to over and over as the “blossoming of and advancement of the Kingdom of Hawai`i.” In November 1999, Amsterdam wrote a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of Interior requesting the immediate restoration of the Kingdom of Hawai`i. He signed his full name, as well as the following professional titles: “Chief Representative of the Zionland Foundation,” “Member of the Royal Hawaiian Elders of Israel” and “Descendent of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani.”
In November 2000, after badly losing a bid to get elected to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), he—acting as “The Interim Government of the Kingdom of Hawai`i, C. Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam, Prime Minister”—filed a lawsuit against the State of Hawai`i challenging the election’s legality. He placed 19th out of 20 candidates, but he felt that the election results were unfair and illegitimate because non-Hawaiians had been allowed to vote. The Supreme Court of Hawai`i dismissed the case two years later.
Amsterdam believes Hawai`i could capitalize on the tourist draws that a royal family and palace would provide, much as the United Kingdom does. He also thinks that it would be righteous to use the aloha spirit to transform Hawai`i from being the military center of the Pacific to one of diplomacy.
If elected senator, Amsterdam told me he would “inspire the other senators to know the reality of what we’re doing” in the sovereignty movement. He said he would only go to Washington, D.C. for one term and would use his background in the interim government of the Hawaiian Kingdom to promote the peaceful co-existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States of America.
Amsterdam also said he would help to advance the Kingdom of Hawai`i through the power of God and Jesus.
“Through their power they raised up Israel and they will raise up the Kingdom of Hawai`i,” he said. “It will be a testament to the glory of God.”
In our last interview Amsterdam asked me why I had so many questions for him.
“I’m just trying to figure you out,” I said.
“Well you won’t,” he replied. “You’ll just keep coming back with more questions.” MTW