Think tank failed to disclose six-figure grant from Israeli government
An American think tank that studies Jew-hatred — including weighing in on when criticism of Israel becomes antisemitic — took a six-figure payment from the Israeli government but didn’t disclose it to the public or to the federal government.
That information was detailed in an internal financial spreadsheet that listed payments approved by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs to entities around the world in the first quarter of 2020. It and other documents were uncovered after a Freedom of Information Act request by the Israeli Freedom of Information Movement and the Israeli news website The Seventh Eye, and shared with the Forward.
It showed that the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, which is based in New York, received $445,000 from the Israeli government in 2018. That value equals nearly 80% of its reported revenue that year.
A separate ministry document said the grant was for the institute’s annual seminar at Oxford University that trains professors to teach about antisemitism, as well as “conducting research in the field of antisemitism and delegitimization against Israel.”
It is quite common for foreign governments to give money to American think tanks. In fact, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the law requiring American advocacy groups to disclose foreign government donations to the Department of Justice, has an exemption for “academic” pursuits, as long as they do not veer into “political activities.”
Asked why the institute was not in the government’s FARA registry, an organization spokesperson said it was because of this exemption. But while many other think tanks disclose government support on their websites and research papers in the interest of transparency and academic integrity, ISGAP does not appear to have done so.
The information about the think tank was included in a trove of Israeli documents released this summer after Israel’s new coalition government appointed a different ministry leader, who dropped the bureau’s longstanding stance of rebuffing public-records requests from reporters. The broader documents show grants from the ministry and an affiliated company, Concert, to American groups totaling more than $6 million over three years, some of which, experts say, should have been disclosed under FARA. Read the full story about the ministry’s financing of pro-Israel groups here.
Founded in 2003, the institute publishes research papers about antisemitism in the West and the Arab world, with a particular focus on academia and campus issues. Several prominent Jewish figures are affiliated with the group: Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik, Knesset member and leader of the Jewish Agency, is its chair, and Abe Foxman, the former longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, is on its board of directors. Several of the group’s publications discuss how criticism of Israel can turn antisemitic.
Like many nonprofits, the institute has separate legal entities in several countries, enabling donors to receive local tax benefits. The institute told The Forward that the ministry money went to one of those affiliates, though it would not say which one; and that the grant was $123,000, not $445,000.
But the Canadian Jewish News reported last year that the institute’s director, Charles Small, told prospective donors that the Israeli government had pledged $1.3 million over three years to his group.
Sima Vaknin-Gil, the ministry’s director-general from 2016 to early 2020, is now a member of the think tank’s board of advisors, but there are no other connections to the Israeli government listed on its website. Disclosures of Israeli government payments also do not appear in ISGAP’s research reports that focus on allegedly antisemitic criticism of Israel. For example, the fact that the Israeli government gave the group money is not mentioned in a May 2020 document titled “Follow the Money.”
Although the think tank had not previously been publicly forthcoming about its financial ties to the Israeli government, a spokesperson said in a statement to the Forward that it was “proud” to have received government grants.
“We are pleased and honored to have been awarded funds from the Government of the State of Israel to research and develop strategies to combat antisemitism,” the statement continued. “The increase of antisemitism is not a Jewish or Israeli parochial problem, but is a matter of human rights and democratic principles.”