NEW YORK, Oct. 14 (JTA) — The Ford Foundation is steering its drive for progressive Israeli causes into a new philanthropic vehicle that partners with a Jewish group. Ford is rolling out a $20 million peace and social-justice fund in partnership with the Washington-based New Israel Fund, the groups have announced. "This grant to the New Israel Fund will increase our funding in Israel and help build the capacity of civic organizations vital to strengthening its democracy," Susan Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a statement. A panel made up of members of the Ford Foundation, the NIF and recipients of past Ford grants in Israel will advise the fund, whose grants will be awarded over five years. By shifting control of its Israel-related philanthropy to a Jewish group, Ford could blaze a new philanthropic trail that other non-Jewish charities may follow, philanthropy experts say. "If others emulate this shift, as a model it becomes even more significant than as an isolated act — and I hope it will," said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, an umbrella group of Jewish foundations. Ford´s idea also is a major boon to the New Israel Fund, which supports Israeli groups devoted to human and civil rights, economic and social justice, and religious pluralism. Since its 1979 founding, NIF has given more than $120 million to 700 Israeli Jewish and Arab groups. The NIF currently supports about 130 organizations. Among other efforts, it aids a Bedouin group, a shelter for battered Israeli Arab women and a lawyer´s group that advocates for civil rights. Ford´s move also represents an upgrade of Ford´s activities in Israel. In recent years, Ford has granted between $2 million and $2.5 million annually to Israeli-based peace and social-justice groups. Since 1948, Ford has granted $50 million to Israeli causes, Ford officials said. Among its recipients was the NIF, which has received $5 million since 1988. "This has an enormous effect, in that one of the world´s great philanthropic organizations has the confidence to put their portfolio of giving in Israel with us," said Peter Edelman, the New York-based chairman of the NIF board. Of the $20 million Ford is giving over five years, $1 million will go directly into NIF´s $4 million endowment, adding significant capacity directly to the grant-maker itself. The bulk of the money will go toward donor-advised awards by the new Ford-NIF fund to Israeli Arab and Jewish groups, to the tune of between $3.4 million to $3.5 million annually. Directing the new fund will be Ford´s former program officer for Israel, Aaron Back, who will be responsible for recommending the grants, according to Bradford Smith, vice president of the Ford Foundation´s peace and social-justice programs. The NIF project does not affect Ford´s other Middle East activities, which are based in Cairo, Smith said. Those efforts, which he said amount to between $2 million and $2.5 million annually, aid such groups as Palestinian non-governmental organizations and universities in the West Bank and Gaza, and projects in Lebanon. Ford´s new philanthropic project is part of a global road map to move monies closer to their intended targets, Smith said. Similar moves are under way to direct Ford funds in Poland through a private foundation and in Cuba through a Mexican group. According to Charendoff, the move also allows Ford — widely seen as the "gold standard" in the charitable foundation world — to cut overhead and maintain current spending levels on programs at a time of shrinking endowment returns. The move "shows real leadership" on Ford´s part, he said. That Ford is sharing the driver´s seat with a Jewish group "is even more striking," Charendoff added.