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Sunday, October 26, 2003

Past haunts the Ford name in new anti-Jewish controversy

Nolan Finley

An old ghost is haunting the Ford name. Henry Ford, the brilliant industrialist whose flaw was raging anti-Semitism, spent much of the 1920s obsessed with proving that Jews were the root of all the world's evils.

     His diatribes filled the pages of The Dearborn Independent, which he purchased as a vehicle for his political and social philosophies and initially staffed with former Detroit News reporters and editors.

     Ford's conspiracy theories about ruthless Jewish bankers and blood-drinking Zionist rabbis might have served as a handbook for the hate-mongers who hijacked last year's international conference on racism in Durban, South Africa.

The Bush administration, by the way, refused to participate in the gathering and was roundly denounced by the worshippers of multilateralism.

     As it turns out, it was a smart decision. Just as the administration predicted, the conference was a world festival of anti-Semitism.

     Israel was accused of practicing apartheid and genocide. Proposed resolutions expressed doubts about the Holocaust and the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

     Palestinian activist groups orchestrated the takeover of the conference agenda. The groups were funded by the Ford Foundation, the charity established by Henry Ford to distribute his fortune.

     The New York-based foundation, with estimated assets of $10 billion and a $500 million annual distribution, long ago severed all connections to the Ford family and the Ford Motor Co. Neither entity is involved with the charity today, and the automaker has spent considerable resources to atone for its founder's prejudices.

     Various Jewish groups are raining down criticism on the Ford Foundation for inflaming tensions in the Middle East and fueling those who preach hate. An investigation by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency accused the foundation of not doing enough to determine whether its money is moving through the Palestinian groups and into the hands of terrorists.

     The State Department has all but stopped sending funds to independent Palestinian organizations because of that fear.

     The Jewish news service also said some of the organizations benefiting from Ford Foundation grants express unity with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, and advocate boycotts of American companies that do business with Israel.

     There's been talk of a Congressional investigation into the Ford Foundation's grant-making. The American Jewish Congress has asked for a Justice Department probe.

     The Ford Foundation denies the groups it funds are linked to terrorism, and says it thoroughly checks all its grantees to make sure they comply with U.S. law, don't incite hate and have no association with terrorists. It also denies that any of the groups it supports were responsible for the deplorable display in Durban.

     Critics say the Ford Foundation has a soft spot for the Palestinian cause. It has a right to any bias it may harbor.

     But the Justice Department has spent the past two years poking into the operations of Muslim charities that funnel money to the Middle East. Some of those charities have been shut down, and their directors arrested, because of remote links to terrorism.

     Respected, old-line American charities have been spared such scrutiny. Perhaps it's time that changed.

Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The Detroit News. Reach him at nfinley@detnews.com or (313) 222-2064.