Probe Demanded of Ford Foundation Funding

By Nacha Cattan

Published October 24, 2003, issue of October 24, 2003.
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A recent investigative report on the Ford Foundation’s funding of Palestinian groups is triggering calls for a federal investigation.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, and the American Jewish Congress are urging a federal probe into the alleged financial ties between what might be the country’s most prestigious foundation and anti-Israel Palestinian groups. The proposal drew tentative support from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The calls come in reaction to an investigative report published in last week’s Forward, alleging that the foundation had backed Palestinian groups accused of fomenting the anti-Israel agitation and blatant antisemitism two years ago at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Critics have called on several federal bodies to intervene, including Congress, the IRS and the FBI. “It’s within [Ford’s] right to fund groups critical of the Israeli government,” Nadler told the Forward. “It’s not right for them to fund groups that cross the line into antisemitism or incitement to hatred against Israel.”

Meanwhile Nadler will be circulating a letter in the House addressed to the Ford Foundation, demanding that the $10 billion charity scrutinize how its funds are being used. Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, said that he would support such a letter. Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, also criticized Ford’s funding practices and called for an investigation to be conducted by Ford itself into whether the foundation’s grantees have links to terrorists. “The Ford Foundation, at best, used poor judgment in its decision to fund Palestinian organizations that promote extremist anti-Israel and antisemitic agendas,” Waxman said. “They may have also violated U.S. law, if these groups are found to have links with Palestinian terrorist organizations. I hope there will be a full investigation and that the Ford trustees will rethink funding for groups whose activities are antithetical to the foundation’s mission in support of human rights.”

According to last week’s investigative report, written by Edwin Black and funded by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, some of Ford’s Palestinian recipients have allegedly organized efforts to boycott Israel, impose international sanctions and try Israelis as war criminals.

In a letter to the Forward, Ford vice president Bradford Smith stated that he strongly denies implications that Ford was responsible for anti-Israel sentiment at Durban or that the foundation is negligent in overseeing how grant monies are used. “We check every grant before we approve it, before we issue a check, and periodically during the life of the grant to ensure that no grant supports any organization on various lists of terrorist suspects,” he wrote.

In an interview with the Forward, Alex Wilde, the Ford Foundation’s vice president of communications, said: “We believe that the original story was one-sided and unfair. We do have ongoing conversations with the leadership of the Jewish community and are happy to address any concerns with them directly.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League told the Forward that it is too soon to call for a congressional investigation: “This is an institution that’s been around for a long time. They’ve established a credible reputation. When this thing surfaces I would give them an opportunity to examine themselves while the public is watching and waiting. If they cannot do it, there’s plenty of time for politicians to have a field day.”

Ford critics are livid over the reported refusal of Ford’s Palestinian grantees to certify that no funds are being used to advocate or support terrorist activities. The Certification Regarding Terrorist Financing is a standard that was recently adopted by the U.S. Agency for International Development. According to last week’s investigative report, a Palestinian NGO Network spokesman said, “Ford does not make us sign this agreement.”

“Congress should examine the tax-exempt status of organizations such as the Ford Foundation,” states an AJCongress press release. “The purpose of the tax exemption cannot be to finance terrorists and terror-related activities.” The AJCongress said that it is turning the matter over to its legal department to determine “what action might be appropriate.”

No evidence has emerged linking Ford’s grant-making to terrorists, although one of several Ford-funded Web sites,, linked directly to the sites of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Within hours of the publication of Black’s article, removed both the links to terrorist groups, which were cited in the report.

“We have only begun to look at the implications raised by this series,” said AJCongress’ general counsel, Marc Stern, who said he was studying the possibility of filing a lawsuit.

Nadler and Hoenlein argued that the USAID certification process is not protection enough against funding of terrorists and that the executive order regulating financial transactions by American organizations working in Palestinian areas should be more vigorously enforced.

“If they would enforce the laws in place we’d be okay,” Hoenlein said. “It’s happening now, but unfortunately it took a long time.”

Hoenlein told the Forward that he is not yet sure whether Congress, the IRS or another federal body would be the right venue for an investigation. He also suggested that media scrutiny might be a sufficient option.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

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