Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

As Ford Moves to Quell Criticism, Jews, U.S. Officials Ponder Impact

January 7, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Ford Foundation has hired a former Clinton administration official with strong ties to the Jewish community to help promote a new policy forbidding grant recipients from supporting terrorism or bigotry.

The appointment of Stuart Eizenstat comes as key leaders in the U.S. Congress say they will move forward to investigate the use of Ford funds and the accountability of such tax-exempt groups.

Recent editorials, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Jewish Week, have called on Congress to move forward with such hearings.

It also comes as Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — including the major Palestinian umbrella group for non-governmental organizations, which receives Ford funding — said Monday that they would not accept U.S. humanitarian aid to protest new U.S. requirements that they sign a pledge guaranteeing that the money will not be used to support terrorism.

The Ford Foundation has been under a microscope since the fall, when a special JTA investigative series found that large financial grants from Ford enabled Palestinian groups virtually to hijack the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and direct attacks against Israel and Jews.

Since the publication of the JTA series, Ford has been working with American Jewish groups and lawmakers to reshape its image and institute new guidelines for grant recipients.

Eizenstat, former deputy Treasury secretary and special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said he also likely will serve as a liaison between Ford and Jewish community leaders.

While some outspoken Jewish leaders want hearings, several key Jewish organizations say they want to give Ford time to implement its new policies and do not support a congressional investigation at this time.

Organizational officials say Jewish support for Ford stems from the foundation’s willingness to work with Jewish groups on the issues, even with possible future Ford funding of programs that combat anti-Semitism.

Others in the community say they are concerned that the hearings are politically motivated, and they’re concerned that Congress might move to place new restrictions on all foundations, many of which fund programs in line with the American Jewish community’s priorities.

Eizenstat said his predominant role will be to work with Ford to implement new guidelines for how Ford grantees can use their money.

“We are making explicit what was implicit before — that no grantee can support or participate in any acts of violence, bigotry, intolerance, discrimination or call for the destruction of any state,” Eizenstat said.

Ford is working with KPMG to create a “risk matrix,” assessing which prospective grantees have the potential of violating the foundation’s guidelines. And Ford is requiring groups that receive aid from grantees to sign a pledge identical to the one Ford is crafting for its aid recipients.

Eizenstat said he supports Ford’s humanitarian mission.

“I believe in the work they have been doing, and have seen it on the ground,” he said. “The work they’re doing is essential to Israel’s security as well as America’s security.”

Ford officials have been meeting with Jewish leaders and U.S. lawmakers since the JTA series was published. They have won some support for the foundation’s recent efforts.

Some Jewish groups agree with Nadler that Ford should not be the subject of congressional hearings right now.

“We need to create a little time here for the Ford Foundation to demonstrate its willingness to abide by its guidelines, both in spirit and in the letter,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

Harris said the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, in two weeks will be a good early test for Ford’s efforts to see whether it holds Palestinian groups to its new guidelines.

Nadler said he is concerned that the Ford Foundation’s problems will be used by Republicans in hearings to beat up on liberal foundations that give money to organizations and causes that Republican leaders oppose.

Jill Gerber, spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee, said Grassley has been investigating the practices of several charitable foundations, and “there isn’t any political bent” to the investigations.

“The questions raised about the Ford Foundation and terrorist-front organizations obviously must be answered,” she said.

“The chairman of the Finance Committee will be investigating the matter to determine if the tax code is properly structured to penalize tax-exempt foundations for making such donations.”

No final decision on scheduling hearings has been made, Gerber said.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said hearings into Ford’s practices could set a bad precedent.

“I think that is ill-advised for Congress to do oversight hearings on how a foundation gives its money,” she said.

Certainly, there are things for the Jewish community to gain from good relations with a foundation as big as Ford, whose assets are estimated at $10 billion, even as it criticizes its support for Palestinian non-governmental organizations.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he believes Jewish groups previously avoided Ford because of its ties to Palestinian groups, but may be interested in seeking its aid in the future.

“At the end of the day, I assume they will fund some project submitted to them by a mainstream Jewish organization,” Foxman said.

While there have not been specific discussions about funding ADL programs, it’s likely Ford eventually will fund such programs, Foxman said.

Susan Berresford, the foundation’s president, suggested in a letter Monday to the Wall Street Journal that the Ford Foundation would work with Jewish organizations to create a new program to combat anti-Semitism, specifically in Europe.

Foxman says he does not believe suggestions by some that Ford is buying peace from the Jewish community. He said Jewish support is not based on the opportunity for money but on Ford’s position as a key international player.

“We don’t want them to pick up their marbles and move out of the Arab-Israeli situation,” he said. “It is a very, very important institute in philanthropic life. If we can put it on the straight and narrow, that’s a major gain for the community and for what we believe to be civility.”

Rosenthal said there was no discussion of money for Jewish groups in her meeting with Berresford.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he believes the hearings should continue. He said new rules should be considered to prevent foundations from funding hate, either knowingly or by accident.

The rules could be similar to new guidelines for NGOs that receive grants from the United States Agency for International Development, which provides government funds for humanitarian projects around the world, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But the Palestinian NGOs, which already had balked at signing a pledge not to support terrorism, went a step further this week in announcing they would not accept U.S. aid because of that requirement.

Officials from the Palestinian NGOs, known as PNGO, said they were boycotting USAID funds for fear that they would not be able to work with Palestinian groups that are identified as terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, for example, reportedly refused $300,000 in aid.

Nadler said he hoped the United States would put diplomatic pressure on Europe and Japan to also refuse to fund Palestinian groups linked to terror, since they may become more enticing avenues of support from Palestinians given the new restrictions being enacted by USAID and Ford.

A senior PNGO official in the Middle East said, “This certificate is against Palestinian law, which makes it illegal to accept conditioned funds.”

“According to the certificate process,” the official said, “most of the national Palestinian parties we work with are terrorists.”

“This certificate did not clarify who is a terrorist,” the official said. “We consider the Israeli occupation to be the terrorists. Therefore, under international law, we have the right to armed resistance.”

As for its Ford funding, the official said, “We do not think Ford will stop funding us — of course not. There may be new conditions, but Ford will not stop funding us — even though we know the Zionist lobby has made special pressures against Ford and the Congress.”

Alex Wilde, vice president for communications at the Ford Foundation, said no grantees have yet received their guidelines on improper use of aid, but will get them imminently.

He said his foundation staff is communicating with Palestinian NGOs but would not comment on whether they had heard complaints similar to those expressed against USAID.

“We will not fund any groups that do not sign,” Wilde said.

Recommended from JTA