NEW YORK, Nov. 4 (JTA) From the halls of Congress to the State Department, pressure is building on the Ford Foundation to stop supporting groups that engage in anti-Israel agitation and anti-Semitic activities. The pressure comes in the wake of a recent JTA series, “Funding Hate,” which revealed that one of the country´s most prestigious foundations has spent millions of dollars on Palestinian and other non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that agitate against Israel.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), met with the Ford Foundation´s president, Susan Berresford, to deliver a letter that he and 19 other lawmakers signed urging Ford to stop funding anti-Israel extremists.
Also on Monday, the State Department said it is talking to the Justice Department, whose job it is to determine if any laws have been broken.
The congressional letter said, “We are extremely concerned with the Ford Foundation´s funding of organizations that have openly and purposefully instigated anti-Semitism, called for the destruction of the State of Israel, and/or engaged in the promotion of violence.”
The letter also said it was “equally disturbing” that some of the grantees have refused to sign a U.S. government document, the Certification Regarding Terrorist Financing, that requires U.S.-funded organizations to pledge they do not support any group that advocates or engages in terrorist activities.
Nadler said after Monday´s meeting that in addition to the letter´s call for increased “transparency and de- funding grantees engaging in objectionable behavior,” he also gave Berresford recommendations for Ford to prevent future support of anti-Israel groups.
Those steps, he said in a statement, might include training human-rights NGOs to “stop the burgeoning problem of unchecked anti-Semitism and de-legitimization of the State of Israel in the human-rights arena.”
Nadler´s office would not comment further on the meeting.
The letter to Ford had cited the JTA series that found that Ford funded NGOs attending the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. The conference “was a virtual field day for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities,” the letter said.
The letter also referred to other Ford-backed anti-Israel groups, such as the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, which publishes “The Palestine Report” and whose Web site linked to groups the State Department considers terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We had a useful conversation,” Nadler said in a prepared statement of his meeting with Berresford. “She committed to me that the Ford Foundation will not fund groups that espouse anti-Semitism, promote violence or deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”
It remains unclear whether Ford is taking or will take steps to follow through on the demands.
A Ford Foundation spokesman, Alexander Wilde, said Ford was “pleased” to meet with Nadler for a “serious discussion on the issues.”
“As the Congressman said, we assured him that we will not fund groups that espouse anti-Semitism, promote violence or deny the legitimacy of Israel´s existence,” Wilde said in an e-mail message to JTA. “We take any such allegations very seriously and investigate them.”
Wilde said Ford looked forward to “continuing the discussion” with Nadler.
When pressed on what action Ford might take, another Ford spokesman, Joe Voeller, said the foundation would not elaborate on its initial statement.
Before the Berresford-Nadler session, however, Wilde had told The New York Sun, “We see no reason to make any changes.”
Meanwhile, a Nadler spokeswoman, Jennie McCue, said they would not comment further “until we hear back from Ford” on the meeting.
Ford´s response was expected “shortly,” she added.
Other lawmakers signing the letter included: Reps. Eliot Engel, Maurice Hinchey, Steve Israel, Michael McNulty, Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Maloney and Gary Ackerman, all Democrats from New York; Reps. Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, Tom Lantos, Linda Sanchez and Robert Matsui, all Democrats from California; Reps. Robert Wexler and Alcee Hastings, both Democrats from Florida; Tim Holden (D-Pa.); Barney Frank (D-Mass.); Martin Frost (D-Texas); Chris Cannon (R-Utah), and Phil Crane (R-Ill.).
Also this week, a State Department official said the agency is scrutinizing the reports of Ford Foundation support for anti-Israel groups that do not sign onto its Certification Regarding Terrorist Financing.
“In light of these charges, and because it is an enforcement issue against a U.S.-based organization, it is an area in which we are talking to the Department of Justice,” a State Department spokesman for the Middle East desk said.
While it is the Justice Department, as the relevant law-enforcement agency, that must determine if Ford has broken any laws, “we are now undertaking a review,” the State Department official said.
A Justice Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Jewish eyes in Washington also are focused on Ford. Last month, the American Jewish Congress said it was considering legal options against Ford or relevant government agencies to force the foundation to adhere to charitable giving laws.
AJCongress´ executive director, Neil Goldstein, said his organization would prefer that Ford act on its own to sever its support for anti-Israel activities, but he continued to explore what legal action AJCongress might pursue.
Calling the Nadler meeting a “positive step,” Goldstein said, “It is far better to see” the Ford Foundation “mend their ways than to have to take them to court.”
Edwin Black, an investigative reporter who wrote JTA´s “Funding Hate” series, contributed to this report.