Embattled Foundation Enlists Eizenstat

Published January 09, 2004, issue of January 09, 2004.
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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 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.

The appointment 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 give up American humanitarian aid rather than accept 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 JTA investigative report found that financial grants from Ford enabled Palestinian groups virtually to hijack the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and mount verbal attacks against Israel and Jews. Since the report’s publication, 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 the Ford Foundation and Jewish communal leaders.

While some outspoken Jewish communal 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, including possible future Ford funding of programs that combat antisemitism. Others in the community say they are concerned that the congressional hearings are politically motivated.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, appears likely to move ahead with congressional hearings — a move that some Jewish groups are counseling against.

“We need to create a little time here for the Ford Foundation to demonstrate its willingness to abide by its guidelines,” said the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris.

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

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said he believes Jewish groups previously avoided Ford, whose assets are estimated at $10 billion, because of its ties to Palestinian groups, but may be interested in seeking its aid in the future.

“I assume they will fund some project submitted to them by a mainstream Jewish organization,” Foxman said. While there have not been specific discussions, it is 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 antisemitism, specifically in Europe.

Foxman said 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.

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.

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