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Part 2: Ford’s Mideast money trail

The Ford Foundation's headquarters in New York. (David Karp)

The Ford Foundation’s headquarters in New York. (David Karp)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (JTA) —The Ford Foundation disburses approximately $500 million annually through 13 offices worldwide, to grantees of all descriptions, in dozens of countries. Each year, the foundation, with an estimated $10 billion in assets, makes some 2,500 awards spanning the realms of art, education, development and social justice.

In the process, Ford practices globalization just as a multinational commercial corporation would, deftly weaving monies in and out of its offices and recipients, in a complex web of funding.

But the Ford Foundation’s product is not commercial — it is philanthropic. A large portion of that annual philanthropic expenditure is devoted to what it terms “human rights and social justice” — that is, not to traditional relief and aid programs, but to advocacy, activism and agitation.

Ford carefully monitors all programs and materials enabled by its funds, maintains Alex Wilde, the foundation’s vice president for communications.

Various grantees also confirmed that Ford requires detailed submissions of printed items and Web site development plans, sometimes two or three times per year. Hence foundation officials remain keenly aware of the fruits of their philanthropy.

There is no easy way to identify how much money the scores of anti-Israel and Palestinian advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, actually receive from Ford. This is because significant funds or program benefits are also channeled through other not-for-profit organizations and even overseas government agencies.

For example, the 2002 annual report of the Washington-based Advocacy Institute lists the Palestinian NGO Network, or PNGO, as a “partner.”

In February 2003, the Advocacy Institute brought a group of PNGO fellows to Washington in a Ford-funded program “to strengthen PNGO’s advocacy capacity.” The program involved “message development, coalition building, media,” as well as “access and persuasion of decision makers,” according to a statement that appeared in mid-August on the institute’s main Web page.

Ford records indicate that the foundation in 2000 granted the Advocacy Institute $180,000 “to strengthen the role of a network of Palestinian NGOs.” The money for PNGO is tallied among the foundation’s U.S. grants, not those of the Cairo office.

Just a year later, in August 2001, PNGO was one of the main groups pushing for anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

To be sure, Ford has also granted several million dollars to American Jewish and Israeli peace groups. For example, Ford in the past has granted $500,000 to the American Reform Judaism movement’s Mideast peace program, known as “Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice,” which seeks to mobilize North American Jewry for social justice in Israel.

Ford also funds several Israeli-based dissident and human rights groups that campaign for Palestinian justice. The list includes such Israeli Palestinian rights advocates as B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Hamoked.

B’Tselem currently receives $250,000 for what Ford databases and reports describe as “monitoring human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, documenting violations, and advocating for policy changes.”

Rabbis for Human Rights has been granted more than $250,000 for what Ford databases and reports describe as “rabbinically-based educational and organizing activities promoting human rights policies by Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the group’s executive director, said the Ford money has been used to develop a Web site, place newspaper advertising and bring other rabbis to Israel to learn about human rights.

Last year, Hamoked was granted $300,000 for what Ford’s databases and reports describe, in one summary, as “advocacy and legal action to promote human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories facing human rights violations by Israeli authorities.”

B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights, while staunchly advocating for Palestinian human rights, have also vocally and publicly condemned the campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorism aimed at Israeli civilians.

Ascherman spoke favorably of Ford, commenting, “Our experience with Ford has been very positive.”

He also said that, while “it would be wrong for a funder organization to have a heavy-handed thumb editing,” in general, grant makers should “ensure the funds are spent for the goals they support, and I would like to think the goals of the Ford Foundation do not include anti-Semitism.”

“We at Rabbis for Human Rights obviously abhor anti-Zionist organizations and anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Brian Walt of the group’s North American branch.

The Ford Foundation also funds the Washington-based New Israel Fund for its activities supporting and promoting social change in Israel. Since 1988, the Ford Foundation has provided more than $5 million to the New Israel Fund, a coalition of Israelis, North Americans and Europeans seeking to promote human rights and justice issues in Israel.

Ford has just announced it would increase its funding to “peace and social justice groups” in Israel through the New Israel Fund with a $20 million five-year grant to be administered by a joint Ford-NIF enterprise.

Aaron Back, Ford’s former program officer for Israel, will oversee the new funding.

The money is designed to “increase our funding in Israel and help build the capacity of civic organizations vital to strengthening its democracy,” according to Ford’s president, Susan Berresford.

The move will shift future grant-making from Ford offices in New York to the New Israel Fund. It is not yet clear which groups will receive money from the donor-advised fund.

The overwhelming majority of Ford’s monies for the Middle East are granted to pro-Palestinian and Islamic rights groups.

The list extends for pages. For example, last year, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza received $100,000 for what Ford databases and reports describe as “community-based advocacy work on economic, social and cultural rights in Gaza.”

The Al Mezan Center works closely with the International Solidarity Movement, which stages civil disobedience actions to obstruct Israeli security forces operating in the territories. The center also operates a Web site, at www.mezan.org, that seeks to document alleged Israeli atrocities and violations of international law, and that also denounces Israel’s war against the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

A recent typical Al Mezan Center news release began, “The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have blatantly escalated their aggression against Palestinian civilians in the OPT during the last week.”

Al Mezan is one of the many Palestinian NGOs that refer to the Israeli Defense Forces as Israeli Occupation Forces. OPT is its abbreviation for “occupied Palestinian territories.”

Augmenting its Ford funding, Al Mezan also receives funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the International Commission of Jurists in Sweden, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and several other U.N. and European Community sources.

A second Palestinian agency, operating under the name Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute, received one $60,000 Ford grant under “Media Arts and Culture,” plus a second award for $75,000 under “Sexuality and Reproductive Health.” The institute operates an incitement Web site, www.palestinemonitor.org, dedicated to mobilizing world action against Israel and Zionism. Its main page offers recommended activism.

For example, a page on the site, as of mid-August, sub-headlined “How can you take action for the Palestinian cause?” offered two Palestinian links, one of which is: “Boycott Israeli Goods.” Clicking on that link leads to another site, www.boycottisrael.org, which includes a list of American companies to be boycotted for doing business in Israel, including Johnson & Johnson, Disney and Starbucks.

In mid-August, Palestine Monitor’s own “Activism” page offered enthusiastic coverage of a September 2002 attempt by pro-Palestinian protesters to enter Caterpillar’s Washington premises for the purpose of serving a so-called citizens-arrest warrant for “war crimes” related to selling bulldozers to Israel.

A third entity, the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, recently received three grants totaling $365,000 to create what Ford databases and reports describe as “media services for the foreign press and a weekly electronic magazine,” as well as “enhancement of media activities related to the crisis situation.”

The center publishes “The Palestine Report,” which can be found at www.palestinereport.org. This Web site employs dramatic imagery and testimony to portray Israel as an apartheid state guilty of war crimes, violations of international law and repeated massacres.

As of early October, one of the center’s main Web site features was a clickable section entitled “From Revolution to Revolution,” which “focuses on internal Palestinian politics, political strengths and cracks in the armor of unity.”

A prominent “Resources” list links to the Web sites of six Palestinian factions. Several of them are listed by the State Department as terrorist groups, including the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

When the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre was asked whether other organizations could be listed as well, an official explained, “We only link to the biggest and best organizations.”

A State Department spokesman for the Near East Affairs bureau who viewed “The Palestine Report” and its link pages to terrorist sites declared, “I am uncomfortable with the funding of this site and especially these links — very uncomfortable.”

Yehudit Barsky, director of the American Jewish Committee’s division on Middle East and international terrorism, added, “I think this demonstrates that we in the United States have not paid attention — foundations can be used in a way no one can imagine. Here we see a Web site promoting terrorist organizations. The Ford Foundation just did not care.”

During this investigation, Wilde, the Ford Foundation communications vice president, refused to answer any questions regarding PNGO, the Policy Institute, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre or any other aspect of the foundation’s involvement with Palestinian NGOs.

Nor would Thea Lurie, the foundation’s deputy media director, or media associate Joe Voeller.

But in a six-page written response to questions that the foundation released only after this investigation was completed, Wilde said: “We are a grant making organization. We support grantees for agreed-upon activities and do not dictate what they should say.”

The statement also said: “Our human rights work reflects a commitment to principles that go beyond partisanship and politics, to basic rights and protections that human beings possess by virtue simply of being born.”

During a visit to Ford’s headquarters in New York, foundation officials brushed off questions about anti-Israel agitation. Quipped one senior Ford official: “Anti-Zionism is in the eye of the beholder.”

Edwin Black is the author of the newly released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race” (Four Walls Eight Windows), which investigates corporate philanthropic involvement in American and Nazi eugenics. In May 2003, he won the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ award for best book of the year for his previous book, “IBM and the Holocaust” (Crown Publishing, 2001).

FUNDING HATE Series

Part 1: Ford funded Durban activists

Part 2: Ford´s Mideast money trail

Part 3: U.S. worries about transparency

Part 4: Case study of a Ford grantee

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