Ford Foundation still funding anti-Israel organizations

By Michael J. Jordan
NEW YORK (JTA) — In August 2001, Israel became a punching bag for several thousand human rights activists from throughout the world who were gathered for a U.N. anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa.
But while the Jewish state may have been the target, the Ford Foundation also ultimately suffered a serious black eye after it emerged that many of the anti-Israel activists in Durban were egged on by Ford-backed, pro-Palestinian groups.
Hoping to head off a similar debacle, Ford says it will not pay for any organization to participate in the first follow-up conference to Durban, slated for April in Geneva.
This announcement comes nearly five years after Ford, America’s second-largest philanthropic institution, adopted what experts describe as the most stringent guidelines on grantees.
Yet despite such steps and the foundation’s public criticisms of what transpired seven years ago, Ford today is funding several organizations that engage in the “Durban strategy” — a two-pronged tactic launched at the ‘01 conference to paint Israel as a “racist, apartheid” state and isolate the Jewish nation through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
The Ford slice of funds to anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations may pale compared to that provided by Europe and its myriad governmental agencies. But the Ford funding enables the groups to wage low-key, diplomatic and economic warfare against Israel, dragging the Palestinian conflict from the battlefield into international forums, media, the Internet and college campuses.
These revelations are the result of a months-long JTA investigation into Ford funding after the highly influential foundation revised its guidelines under pressure from the U.S. Congress.
The pressure followed an October 2003 JTA expose, “Funding Hate,” which found that Ford funneled millions of dollars to pro-Palestinian NGOs (non-governmental agencies), enabling them to promote their vitriolic agenda against Israel in Durban. The NGO Forum, which accompanied the official gathering of countries, issued a lengthy document, including passages containing some of the most provocative attacks on Israel ever produced under the umbrella of the United Nations.
Despite its revised guidelines, Ford appears unable — or unwilling — to prevent some of its grantees from lending support to the movement that was launched in Durban.
The new JTA investigation, which examined a large cross-section of Ford grantees that speak out on the Middle East conflict, finds that several signed a major 2005 boycott and divestment petition ( against “Apartheid Israel.”
As Ford was announcing its decision not to support the 2009 anti-racism forum, its Web site touted a 2008–09 grant for $305,000 to the Arab NGO Network for Development, which features a map on its Web site that fails to note the existence of Israel. One of the two Palestinian members on its coordination committee is the pro-boycott Palestinian NGO Network, or PNGO (, a key organizer at Durban.
Although PNGO is no longer receiving grants from Ford, the network works closely with at least three Ford grantee organizations.
Ford, which has assets above $13 billion and gives away more than $500 million annually, was endowed with funds donated by Henry and Edsel Ford but no longer maintains any ties to the Ford Motor Co.
The foundation does not support groups that solely advocate boycotts, but signing onto a boycott or divestment effort is not itself a deal breaker for funding, according to Ford’s vice president of communications, Marta Tellado.
Tellado said there are no concrete red lines.
“We don’t have a glossary of terms that are not allowed,” she said. “It’s not about the specific use of a word, but we look at the totality of that organization, if their activities as a whole still reflect our values and mission.”
Tellado said the foundation never supported the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa, but it recognizes that “historically, boycott is seen as a legitimate, nonviolent means of expression.”
“We don’t think the idea of a boycott can be generalized to mean it’s aimed at the destruction of a country,” Tellado said. “But we understand that it’s a flashpoint” in the conflict today.
With preparations under way for the follow-up U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Geneva, there are strong indications that Israel again will be singled out for opprobrium.
Tellado said the Ford Foundation
wants no part of it.
“Experience totally informs our
decision,” she said. “This refl ects
our concern for the meeting’s ability
to be constructive.”
This and other steps — like severing
relations with several zealous
NGOs — garner Ford praise from
even its toughest critics.
After JTA revealed the Ford-
Durban link in 2003, Ford issued
its new guidelines for grantees.
Experts say the revisions were
the most extensive seen in philanthropic
circles. They elicited
howls of free-speech infringement
from the American Civil Liberties
Union and a slew of top U.S. universities.
Under the guidelines, Ford
grantees must agree not to “carry
on propaganda” or “promote or
engage in violence, terrorism,
bigotry or the destruction of any
State, nor will it make subgrants
to any entity that engages in these
Although no Ford grantee was
linked to terrorism per se, some
appeared to condone violence
and terror. Ford has since stopped
funding those groups.
Yet JTA has uncovered several
grantees that engage in the twin
“Israel is apartheid” and “boycott
and divest” campaigns.
“That is the essence of the Durban
strategy: demonize and delegitimize
Israel to the degree that
it gains no external support and
eventually is unable to function,”
said Gerald Steinberg, the executive
director of the Jerusalembased
NGO Monitor.
“I wouldn’t say this is a strong,
consistent pattern, but it’s more
than minor leakage. Ford should
take a more proactive approach so
its monies are not abused.”
Benefi ciaries of Ford funds include:
• Al-Mezan Center for Human
Rights (
php); Muwatin: Palestinian
Institute for the Study of
Democracy (;
The Palestinian Center for Human
Rights (
facts/fact3.htm); and Miftah: The
Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion
of Global Dialogue and
Democracy ( All
these groups signed onto boycott
and divestment petitions against
“Apartheid Israel.”
• Al Haq: Law in the Service
of Man. The West Bank affi liate
of the International Commission
of Jurists in Geneva in the “Goals
and Objectives” section of its Web
page (
php?id=51) cites “participation in
civil society discourse and activities
regarding divestment, boycott,
and sanctions.” Last July it urged
the U.N. General Assembly to recall
the “political, economic, military
and cultural isolation of South
Africa” as “such measures must be
considered in relation to Israel.”
• The Arab NGO Network for
Development. Its Web site (www. prominently features
a section called “Eye on Gaza”
with links to 10 related documents.
Among them are an article
titled “The Israeli Recipe for 2008:
Genocide in Gaza” and a March
news release of the Euro-Mediterranean
NGO Platform — another
Ford grantee — accusing Israel
of “massacres,” “war crimes” and
Observers say that the activities
of some Ford grantees point to the
challenge that any huge, decentralized
organization faces in monitoring
its partners. Ford boasts 4,000
grantees around the world.
The issue may boil down to
Ford’s interpretation of what terms
such as “promote” or “bigotry” or
“propaganda” mean, as stated in
their guidelines.
“We’re not in the business of
censorship because that fl ies in the
face of our values,” Tellado said.
“Having said that, you really do
need to monitor because words do
matter. We realize there is a lot of
hyperbole bandied about and not
backed up by fact.”
For their part, the Ford-funded
NGOs say branding Israel “apartheid”
is one way to “raise awareness”
The Palestinian Center for Human
Rights received a two-year,
$370,000 Ford grant for 2005–07
“for a program of legal advocacy
and defense of human rights and
the rule of law and promotion of
democratic processes in Gaza.”
Even Steinberg of NGO Monitor
praises the rights group for being
one of the rare Palestinian organizations
to condemn various abuses
committed by the Palestinian authorities
and police.
But in November 2006, the center
also issued an “action alert”
in which it joined with the Grassroots
Palestinian Anti-Apartheid
Wall Campaign — a network devoted
to the boycott movement
— in calling on the world to hold
“Apartheid Israel” accountable for
its “war crimes.”
Jaber Wishah, the Palestinian
Center’s deputy director, told
JTA that by employing the term
“apartheid,” “we are trying to raise
awareness of the illegal and brutal
behavior of the Israeli occupying
force and the very discriminatory
policies that the Israeli judicial
system provides cover for.”
“The strategy of boycotts and
divestment should be adopted to
put an end to the Israeli policy of
discrimination,” he said in a phone
interview from Gaza City.
Joharah Baker, an editorial
writer for Miftah, another Ford
grantee, concedes that equating Israel
with South Africa is not quite
accurate, as “no two situations are
exactly the same.” But many comparisons
can be drawn, she said
— the separation between the two
peoples, and also separating Palestinians
from Palestinians.
The Ford-Durban link
The Ford Foundation, with
its mission to “strengthen democratic
values, reduce poverty and
injustice, promote international
cooperation, and advance human
achievement,” has provided
through its Cairo offi ce more than
$200 million over the past halfcentury
to some 350 NGOs in the
Middle East.
So perhaps it was natural that
Ford would support many groups
attending the landmark Durban
Most of the media attention
went to the accompanying NGO
Forum in Durban, which attracted
thousands of activists from around
the world, aimed the harshest rhetoric
at Israel and inspired several
incidents of anti-Jewish epithets
and the distribution of anti-Semitic
The extremism sparked a walkout
by the American and Israeli
But the real story, in retrospect,
was the launch of the current “Israel
is apartheid” movement.
In that Durban NGO document
— mostly rejected by U.N. member-
states during their offi cial conference
that followed — plotters
unveiled a game plan: “Complete
and total isolation of Israel as an
apartheid state, as was done in the
case of South Africa — sanctions,
embargoes, the full cessation of all
links (diplomatic, economic, social,
and military cooperation and
training) between all states and Israel,”
coupled with “condemnation
of those states supporting, aiding,
and abetting the Israeli apartheid
state, and its perpetration of racist
crimes against humanity, including
ethnic cleansing and acts of
Ford’s vital funding of the Durban
ringleaders helped re-inject
terms like “apartheid,” “boycott”
and “divestment” into mainstream
discourse about Israel.
The foundation’s then-president,
Susan Berresford, apologized
for its role in Durban in a Nov.
17, 2003 letter to U.S. Rep. Jerrold
Nadler (D-N.Y.) on the heels
of the four-part JTA investigation
“Funding Hate.”
“We now recognize that we did
not have a clear picture of the activities,
organizations and people
involved,” Berresford wrote. “We
deeply regret that Foundation
grantees may have taken part in
unacceptable behavior in Durban.”
In 2003, Ford initially denied
to JTA that any anti-Israel agitation
or anti-Semitic activities
took place in Durban. But as Nadler
and 20 other U.S. lawmakers
pressed for an investigation, and
groups including the American
Jewish Congress threatened a lawsuit,
Ford reversed itself.
Berresford’s letter to Nadler said
that Ford offi cials were “disgusted
by the vicious anti-Semitic activity
seen at Durban” and vowed, “If
the Foundation fi nds allegations of
bigotry and incitement of hatred
by particular grantees to be true
— we will cease funding.”
Ford’s revised guidelines, produced
in November 2003 with input
from Nadler’s offi ce and Jewish
groups, altered a longstanding
hands-off policy for its grantees
and annual allocations worldwide.
Nadler said Ford’s revised policy
has become a “benchmark”
for the philanthropic and human
rights world.
“In the face of that substantial
pressure, Ford had stood strong,
re-articulated their values and
forcefully asserted their rights to
deny funding to those organizations
that violate their essential
principles,” Nadler told JTA. “They
should be lauded for that.”
After Ford’s role in the Durban
conference was highlighted and
the foundation tightened its grantee
guidelines, it also doled out millions to assorted Jewish organizations.
(See sidebar p 11.)
Ford also earned kudos for its
decision in February 2006 to withdraw
support for an American Association
of University Professors
conference in Italy after The New
York Sun revealed that some onethird
of expected participants had
publicly supported boycotts of Israeli
Now comes the move to distance
the foundation from the follow-
up to Durban, which will be
held in Geneva on U.N. grounds,
where security and protocol can be
more effectively controlled.
Yet a re-examination of that
initial Berresford letter along with
recent interviews with current
Ford offi cials suggest that Ford’s
rejection of groups that incite terror
and anti-Semitism does not
extend to the boycott and divestment
The Palestinian NGO Network
was one of the more notorious
Durban ringleaders and continues
to circle within the Ford orbit.
PNGO, according to JTA’s 2003
series, had received $1.4 million
from Ford over the years. Though
it no longer receives Ford funding,
its relations with several current
Ford grantees raises questions
about whether some funds Ford
gives to groups associated with the
network might end up supporting
PNGO in some way.
PNGO is heavily involved with
two of the prime campaigns associated
with the boycott, divestment
and sanctions movements, known
as BDS: the Palestinian Campaign
for the Academic and Cultural
Boycott of Israel and the Grassroots
Palestinian Anti-Apartheid
Wall Campaign. The latter recently
won U.N. accreditation to attend
the 2009 anti-racism forum.
These two groups, along with
PNGO, headlined a Nov. 22 conference
on boycott and divestment
strategy held in Ramallah.
PNGO’s advice to participants
at the conference on how to publicly
describe their objectives is
on its Web site (
It reads: “Emphasize that the
BDS campaign does not only
target Israel’s economy, but challenges
Israel’s legitimacy, being a
colonial and apartheid state, as
part of the international community.
Therefore, efforts are needed
not only to promote wide consumer
boycotts, but also boycotts
in the fi elds of academia, culture
and sports.”
PNGO is also linked to three
current Ford grantees. It is a coordinating
committee member
of the Arab NGO Network for
Development; an executive board
member of the Euro-Mediterranean
NGO Platform (the Arab
NGO Network is also a member);
and is associated with Muwatin,
which it thanked online for lending
a hand with the November
strategy conference in Ramallah.
Even if money is not given
specifi cally to bash Israel, NGO
workers often speak of “fungibility”
— money that is given from
one donor, for one specifi c purpose,
frees up money for NGOs to
use for another purpose.
Alfred Ironside, a Ford spokesman,
told JTA during a recent interview
at the foundation’s Manhattan
offi ces that the lines were
“Ford grants are made for specifi
c purposes, and we require a
strict accounting of how funds are
applied to grant-specifi c work,”
he said.
Monitoring grantees
To monitor its grantees, Ford
says it conducts random Web site
checks and responds to specifi c
complaints from peers in the fi eld,
lawmakers and other respected
fi gures.
If Ford deems it necessary, Tellado
said, the foundation will sever,
freeze or even recover funding.
But Ford offi cials declined to
name grantees they have punished
this way, nor will the foundation
say how many NGOs the foundation
has cut loose since revising
its guidelines.
Ford moved quickly in late
2003 to jettison a major Durban
instigator — the Palestinian Committee
for the Protection of Human
Rights and the Environment,
also known as LAW. But that public
announcement was made easier
when the group’s serious fi nancial
improprieties also came to light.
With Berresford’s retirement
last year, some on the left expressed
hope that Ford’s incoming
president, Luis Ubinas, would reverse
the guidelines policy.
The new president, however,
says there’s no chance.
“Susan put a lot of thought
into creating this policy,” Ubinas
recently told JTA, “and I have no
intention of changing it.”

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