Few American institutions have done more to advance human understanding, aid the downtrodden and empower the powerless than the Ford Foundation. With its estimated $10 billion in assets and its global reach, the foundation has led the way toward a new model of activist philanthropy that goes beyond symphonies and soup kitchens to teach the poor how to help themselves.
These days, unfortunately, it’s not so simple to identify the downtrodden. In today’s topsy-turvy world, you can’t always tell who is treading on whom. Empowering the powerless can mean giving a leg up to somebody who’s looking for revenge rather than justice.
You might expect a $10 billion foundation to take care to make those fine distinctions and look after the details. But as Edwin Black reports on Page 1, following a two-month investigation that he conducted with the backing of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Ford Foundation has let an awful lot of details slide. The foundation has given millions of dollars in grants over the last few years to a gaggle of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations that seem to have gone way beyond their mandate of civil rights and social activism to engage in what can only be called hate-mongering.
The worst of the Palestinian groups’ incitement was on display at the United Nations conference on racism in Durban last year, which turned into an orgy of anti-Israel and antisemitic incitement, in large part under the deliberate orchestration of the Palestinian groups. But it didn’t start or end in Durban. The incitement continues, infecting discourse in the Middle East and around the world. And Ford helps pay for it.
Some of Ford’s misdirected funding, the investigation suggests, is due to poor oversight. The foundation needs to follow its dollars more closely and must show greater willingness to ask some hard questions of its grantees. The Arab Middle East today is a region steeped in rage and resentment, and efforts to ensure that humanitarian assistance doesn’t go to aid incitement — or even terrorism — are frequently met with stiff local opposition. That must not stop Western funders from doing their job.
But we suspect another dynamic at work: an intellectual laziness that’s gaining ground among Western liberals. Eager to help the poor of the Third World and shocked by the continuing violence in the Middle East, too many on the left let themselves be lulled into swallowing the demonization of Israel that passes for discourse among Arab and Muslim extremists. In short order, sloppy thinking becomes bigotry.
Ford owes it to itself, the American public and the people it seeks to serve to examine its funding policies and start setting some standards. It must demand that its grantees be responsible players in their region, and if they refuse, the funding should stop.