Ford Foundation funded Durban anti-Israel activists
By Edwin Black
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The following is Part 1 of a 4-part series. Read the whole series and review supporting documents at www.jta.org/ford.asp.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — In August 2001, thousands of human rights activists from around the globe gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a United Nations conference that participants hoped would address racial injustice plaguing humanity around the world.
But it became clear to Israeli officials and Jewish organizational leaders that Palestinian non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and their allies, had manipulated the agenda of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism into a focused indictment of Israel as an illegitimate apartheid, colonial and genocidal regime.
Moreover, the proposed language of conference resolutions would deny or dilute the Holocaust and espouse an openly anti-Semitic stance.
U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a member of the American delegation to the conference, termed the event "a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral argument for Israel's existence." Anti-Israel agitation, anti-Zionist propaganda and blatant anti-Semitism permeated the eight-day affair. Posters displaying Nazi icons and Jewish caricatures, anti-Israel protest marches, organized jeering, inciting leaflets and anti-Jewish cartoons were everywhere, as was orchestrated anti-American agitation.
A virulent resolution drafted by non-governmental organizations at the Durban conference declared Israel a "racist apartheid state" guilty of "genocide and ethnic cleansing." The spectacle was so noxious that Powell withdrew the American delegation.
Who financed a number of the groups at Durban that printed and distributed these materials, purchased advertising and conducted workshops?
The Ford Foundation, one of America's largest and most prestigious philanthropic institutions, was a multimillion-dollar funder of many NGOs at Durban.
That is the conclusion of a two-month JTA investigation, involving interviews with dozens of individuals in seven countries, as well as a review of more than 9,000 pages of government and organizational documents.
Ford — endowed by funds from Henry and Edsel Ford but no longer with any ties to the Ford Motor Company — has long been a funder of Palestinian causes.
With hundred of millions of dollars being pumped into Middle East NGOs by numerous private foundations here and in Europe, government and communal officials are raising significant questions about transparency, how the money in Palestinian areas is being used and whether funders such as the Ford Foundation are exercising proper controls.
Increasingly, federal agencies concerned with fighting terrorism are asking: When money goes in one NGO's pocket, where does it go and whom does it benefit?
The Jewish representatives at Durban "didn't understand the efforts, the financing and the organization that went into hijacking the conference," recalls Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a Durban delegate.
"We didn't understand how organized the opposition and what a well-financed campaign it was."
Many Jewish organizational officials complained that a key organization responsible for the methodical hijacking of the conference was the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, which operates under the acronym LAW.
LAW officials took leadership positions on the Durban conference steering committees, conducted workshops and even sponsored a pre-conference mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for South African delegates, to convince them that Israel was an apartheid state.
"LAW was instrumental in creating the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic focus at Durban," confirmed Andrew Srulevitch, executive director of U.N. Watch.
But it was not just LAW. The Palestinian NGO Network, or PNGO, an umbrella organization of some 90 Palestinian NGOs, as well as many of its constituent groups, diligently became embedded in the conference bureaucracy that created the hostile environment at Durban.
PNGO led the move to craft an NGO resolution that would "call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state," including "the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, [and] the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel."
Through its Cairo office, Ford has extended more than $35 million in grants to some 272 Arab and Palestinian organizations during the two-year 2000-2001 period alone — the most recent years for which data are available — plus 62 grants to individuals that total more than $1.4 million, according to Ford's Web site as accessed in mid-October
Since the 1950s, the foundation's Beirut and Cairo offices have awarded more than $193 million to more than 350 Middle East organizations, almost entirely Arab, Islamic or Palestinian.
Ford's Web site (fordfound.org) offers detailed information about its Middle East grants. On the site as of mid-October, "Palestine" is frequently mentioned on its Middle East pages, but Israel's name is absent. Moreover, the Web site's shaded map of the geographical region from Egypt to Lebanon and Jordan blanks out over Israel's territory, even though Ford does make grants to both Jewish and Arab organizations in Jerusalem.
Initially, the Ford Foundation's communications vice president Alex Wilde, deputy media director Thea Lurie and media associate Joe Voeller refused to answer any questions or clarify any issues regarding the foundation's funding of groups engaged in anti-Israeli agitation and anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist activity.
After this investigation was completed, Wilde did send a six-page written statement, declaring, "We have seen no indication that our grantees in Durban or elsewhere engaged in anti-Semitic speech or activities. The Foundation does not support hate speech of any kind."
Wilde added: "Some of our human rights and development grantees have certainly been critical of policies and practices of the Israeli government insofar as these discriminate against Palestinians or otherwise violate their rights, according to internationally agreed human rights standards and international law."
"We do not believe that this can be described as 'agitation,'" the statement asserted.
Both LAW and PNGO confirmed that Ford funds were pivotal.
"Ford has made it possible for us to do much of our work," a senior LAW official in Jerusalem said in an interview.
Since 1997, LAW has been the recipient of three Ford grants, totaling $1.1 million, to engage in "advocacy" and participate at international conferences, according to LAW officials. A Ford Foundation official's check of the charity's confidential computer databases confirmed the information.
Reached in Ramallah on her cell phone, PNGO program coordinator Renad Qubaj recalled her coordination of activities in Durban.
"In Durban, for sure we published posters saying, 'End the occupation,' things like that," Qubaj said, "and we published a study, had a press conference, organized our partners and protest marches."
She added, "We get very little money from the Arabs — just needy family cases. Ford is our biggest funder."
Allam Jarrar, a member of the 11-person PNGO steering committee network, and one who helped organize the events at Durban, explained that Ford money allows PNGO to have a global scope.
"We do lots of international advocacy conferences and regional forums," Jarrar said, "and we always try to represent our political view to Europe. We attended some women's conferences [in Europe], plus Durban."
"Our biggest donations come, of course, from Ford," Jarrar added. "We have been in partnership with Ford for a long time — a real partnership, a real understanding of our needs.
"Of course, when we go to an international conference, we try to get extra funds from one of their special budgets," Jarrar said. "Or sometimes the conferences' organizers, if they have their own Ford Foundation funding, they send us the finances to attend."
LAW and PNGO were hardly the only Ford-backed groups at Durban. The conference was a major enterprise for the Ford Foundation.
In a Ford Web site commentary written prior to Durban, Bradford Smith, Ford's vice president for peace and social justice, wrote that the conference's issues were "at the core of the Ford Foundation's mission since its inception."
More than a dozen activist organizations — from Brazil to Sri Lanka — received well over $1 million in Ford grants specifically earmarked for the production of advertising materials, public meetings and advocacy at the Durban conference.
"Does all this mobilizing, networking and drafting of statements have real impact on people's lives?" Smith asked in the statement. His answer: Yes, "because for years to come they [Ford grantees] and the foundation will work together to implement the [Durban] Conference Plan of Action."
Since the Durban conference, LAW has continued its public crusade against Israel and Zionism, and PNGO, as well as many of its 90 members, continue organizing efforts to try Israeli officials as war criminals, boycott the Jewish state and label Israel a racist, illegitimate state that must be stripped of its Jewish identity.
While a number of the Ford-financed organizations at Durban engaged in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agitation, many did not.
Still, Ford Foundation money, as intended, was a prime mover in the production of the advocacy pamphlets, posters, workshops and other materials that shaped the overall conference atmosphere.
"I saw the Ford representative at Durban," remembers Palkovitz, the Hadassah delegate, who spotted him in connection with African American reparations issues. "There was no way to miss the anti-Semitism. The Ford guy would have to be blind. It was the most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist stuff you ever saw.
"I told the Ford representative I thought it was a mistake because the whole meeting was being hijacked," she related. "He disagreed. He said he believed what the conference was doing was correct."
"We are struck," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, "by the scores of Palestinian NGOs funded by Ford, a number of which have deeply disturbing and troubling records on Israel and Jews."
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.