WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (JTA) The Ford Foundation has taken its first steps to fulfill a pledge made last month to reverse its funding for organizations engaged in anti-Israel agitation. In the pledge to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and a group of Jewish organizations, Ford president Susan Berresford promised immediately to stop funding the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights, also known as LAW.
LAW was widely credited with helping orchestrate the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish debacle at the September 2000 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
The pledge followed revelations in a special four-part JTA investigative series, “Funding Hate.”
Ford’s move against LAW funding comes as the former executive director of LAW, Khader Shkirat, is the subject of legal action. Four European countries and the European Union have filed a criminal complaint against him for allegedly misappropriating donor funds.
Ford confirmed its action against LAW this week.
Ford’s vice president of communications, Alex Wilde, said in a letter, “The Ford Foundation has notified LAW of its decision to cease funding and to demand return of its unspent grant funds.”
LAW officials in Jerusalem confirmed that last month they received notification from Emma Playfair, Ford’s representative in Cairo, that further expenditures of foundation monies were not authorized and that the unspent balance was to be returned.
Wilde stated that the foundation also has notified some 30 other LAW donors that it had suspended the organization’s funding.
LAW officials said it was “unclear” whether they would return the Ford money. They said it was the organization’s prior management that was at fault, and that the group had tried to delete offensive language from its materials.
For example, a LAW executive said, “We had on our Web site a report about Durban, and it was an unfair report and gets off the topic, which is human rights. We removed it in October.”
Wilde ruled out the possibility that LAW could obtain monies via the Palestinian NGO Network, which Ford also funds. LAW is a member of PNGO, which also was identified as organizing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activities at Durban.
PNGO itself is still advocating a global boycott of Jewish academics from Israel, according to a page of the Palestinemonitor.com Web site viewed this week.
Wilde did not respond to specific questions about the PNGO boycott campaign.
But he did say that like all other Ford grantees, future funding to PNGO “will be subject to our new and expanded worldwide program of grantee audits, our continuing investigation into the events surrounding the Durban conference, and new grantee contract language that prohibits any organization receiving Foundation funds from promoting or engaging in violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state.”
Meanwhile, governmental aid agencies in Norway, Denmark and Ireland, as well as the Swiss Foreign Ministry and the European Union, filed a criminal complaint against Shkirat and some 27 other individuals associated with the alleged misappropriation of funds, according to Mazen Qupti, a Palestinian attorney representing the five European entities in their complaint.
The complaint was submitted to prosecutors on Dec. 15, Qupti said.
In a separate action, LAW’s current executive staff, which is trying to distance the group from the organization’s prior conduct, filed a civil lawsuit against Shkirat and two other individuals for mismanagement of funds donated by Ford and various European agencies, according to LAW’s attorney, Mousa Kurdi.
Palestinian sources said they were unsure whether Palestinian prosecutors would pursue the politically well-connected Shkirat. He is a prominent attorney and activist who represents Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Fatah leader who is on trial in Israel for allegedly masterminding terror attacks that killed dozens of Israelis.
“I believe it depends on what the Palestinian Authority wants,” said a Palestinian attorney representing European donors.
“If the Palestinian Authority really wants to arrest the right people it will happen quickly. But if they do not, then the investigation will take a long time, and then not much will happen.”
An Ernst & Young official in the United States said Qupti’s office had asked for the documentation supporting the firm’s 60-page special investigative audit of LAW’s finances.
That report, which was issued in March, concluded that about 40 percent of LAW’s $9.2 million in foreign charitable funding had been diverted and misappropriated.
Ernst & Young told Qupti that it would only release the documentation with a subpoena to do so, according to an American Ernst & Young source.
Although Ford was a major donor, the foundation has not joined the European criminal complaint. But Ford’s Wilde said Ford would cooperate with government inquiries about this case.
Wilde also confirmed that Ford previously had suspended a $60,000 individual grant extended to Shkirat in September 2001 to support his participation in a Harvard University human rights program.
He said that grant was made a year before accounting issues surfaced that led Ford and other donors to commission an audit of LAW’s finances. When Shkirat failed to complete the Harvard academic program, Ford placed him on a list of people prohibited from receiving foundation funds and recovered the unspent funds from the individual grant.
Efforts to contact Shkirat were not successful.
Meanwhile, in the Jewish community and in the U.S. Congress, opinions were split over whether Ford had done enough to reverse its multimillion-dollar funding of anti-Israel agitation and whether a congressional investigation should go forward.
Nadler’s administrative aide, Brett Heimov, said that the Ford Foundation “should be given a chance to correct their mistakes before a full and complete investigation takes place.”
Mortimer Zuckerman, past chairman of the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, and one of the leaders who consulted with Ford officials, agreed.
“They should have a reasonable time deadline to deal with these issues and be very transparent,” he said. “If they do so, fine. If not, we should seek another approach. For now, I think they are making a good-faith effort and should be taken at their word until proven otherwise.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, agreed.
“At this time, I don’t believe a full-scale investigation is warranted,” he said. “The Ford Foundation is looking into its operations and has made commitments for change. I think we should let that go forward.”
But executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Neil Goldstein, said that while he thought Nadler should be praised for going forward, “that should not preclude us looking back to see what went wrong and see who was to blame particularly so, given the fact that Ford hands out more foreign aide than a nation the size of Canada.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said, “I’m in favor of not letting the process drop.”
“This experience has shown us that foundations can allocate their funds to support activities that are against American interests and promote extremist expressions such as we saw at Durban. Therefore, any investigation should include more than just the Ford Foundation, but also others,” Hoenlein said.
U.S. Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Charles Grassley (R-Idaho) have insisted that a complete investigation of Ford still is needed.
This week, Santorum’s spokesman, Robert Trayham, said, “As of today, Sen. Santorum still stands for a full and complete investigation.”
Edwin Black is the author of the recently released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race.” The entire JTA investigative series on Ford Foundation funding can be read at jta.org/ford.asp.