Oct. 16 (JTA) — In August 2001, thousands of human rights activists
from around the globe gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a United
Nations conference that participants hoped would address racial
injustice plaguing humanity, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka to the United
But after more than a year of preparatory conferences held
in Iran, Switzerland, Chile, France and Senegal, it became clear to
Israeli officials and Jewish organizational leaders that Palestinian
non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and their allies, had
manipulated the agenda of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism into
a focused indictment of Israel as an illegitimate apartheid, colonial
and genocidal regime.
Moreover, the proposed language of
conference resolutions would deny or dilute the Holocaust and espouse
an openly anti-Semitic stance.
Many Western leaders, including
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, declined to attend what U.S. Rep.
Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a member of the American delegation to the
conference, termed “a transparent attempt to de-legitimize the moral
argument for Israel’s existence.”
As expected, anti-Israel
agitation, anti-Zionist propaganda and blatant anti-Semitism permeated
the eight-day Durban affair. Posters displaying Nazi icons and Jewish
caricatures, anti-Israel protest marches, organized jeering, inciting
leaflets and anti-Jewish cartoons were everywhere, as was orchestrated
A virulent resolution drafted by
non-governmental organizations at the Durban conference declared Israel
a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The spectacle was so noxious that Powell withdrew the American
Who financed a number of the groups at Durban that
printed and distributed these materials, purchased advertising and
“No one knew where the money was coming
from to fund all these NGOs,” remembers Judith Palkovitz of Pittsburgh,
Hadassah general secretary and a delegate to Durban. “I assumed it was
a foreign group — say Saudi Arabia.”
When asked, one Jewish communal leader after another, and several State Department officials, also guessed: Saudi Arabia.
They were wrong.
The Ford Foundation, one of America’s largest philanthropic
institutions — and arguably the most prestigious — was a
multimillion-dollar funder of many human rights NGOs attending Durban.
That is the conclusion of a two-month JTA investigation, involving
interviews with dozens of individuals in seven countries, as well as a
review of more than 9,000 pages of government and organizational
Ford — which was endowed with funds donated by Henry
and Edsel Ford but no longer maintains any ties to the Ford Motor
Company — has long been known as a funder of Palestinian causes.
But most observers did not suspect the extent of the foundation’s
involvement in funding of groups that engage in anti-Zionist,
anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian activities both inside and outside the
With hundred of millions of dollars being pumped
into Mideast NGOs by numerous private foundations here and in Europe,
government and communal officials are raising significant questions
about transparency, how the money in Palestinian areas is being used
and whether funders such as the Ford Foundation are exercising proper
Increasingly, federal agencies concerned with
fighting terrorism are asking: When money goes in one NGO’s pocket,
where does it go and whom does it benefit?
representatives at Durban “didn’t understand the efforts, the financing
and the organization that went into hijacking the conference,” recalls
Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council for Public
Affairs and a Durban delegate.
“We knew we were walking into
problems because of what happened in the early meeting in Teheran,”
Price said. “But we didn’t understand how organized the opposition and
what a well-financed campaign it was.”
organizational officials who participated in the long process
complained that a key organization responsible for the methodical
hijacking of the conference was the Palestinian Committee for the
Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, which operates under
the acronym LAW.
LAW officials took leadership positions on the
Durban conference steering committees, conducted workshops and even
sponsored a pre-conference mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for
South African delegates, to convince them that Israel was an apartheid
“LAW was instrumental in creating the anti-Zionist and
anti-Semitic focus at Durban,” confirmed Andrew Srulevitch, executive
director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based group that monitors the world
But it was not just LAW. The Palestinian NGO
Network, or PNGO, an umbrella organization of some 90 Palestinian NGOs,
as well as many of its constituent groups, diligently became embedded
in the conference bureaucracy that created the hostile environment at
PNGO led the move to craft an NGO resolution that
would “call upon the international community to impose a policy of
complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,”
including “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and
embargoes, [and] the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic,
social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and
Durban was not a one-time investment for the Ford Foundation — a major funder of LAW and PNGO.
Indeed, through its Cairo office, Ford has extended more than $35
million in grants to some 272 Arab and Palestinian organizations during
the two-year 2000-2001 period alone — the most recent years for which
data is available — plus 62 grants to individuals that total more than
$1.4 million, according to Ford’s Web site, as accessed in mid-October
Since the 1950s, the foundation’s Beirut and Cairo offices
have awarded more than $193 million to more than 350 Middle East
organizations, almost entirely Arab, Islamic or Palestinian.
Ford’s Web site, at www.fordfound.org, offers detailed information
about its Middle East grants. On the site as of mid-October,
“Palestine” is frequently mentioned on its Mideast pages, but Israel’s
name is absent. Moreover, the Web site’s shaded map of the geographical
region from Egypt to Lebanon and Jordan blanks out over Israel’s
territory, even though Ford does make grants to both Jewish and Arab
organizations in Jerusalem.
Initially, despite more than two
dozen requests by phone and in writing over a period of several weeks,
the Ford Foundation’s communications vice president Alex Wilde, deputy
media director Thea Lurie and media associate Joe Voeller refused to
answer any questions or clarify any issues regarding the foundation’s
funding of groups engaged in anti-Israeli agitation and anti-Semitic or
However, after this investigation was
completed, Wilde did send a six-page written statement, declaring, “We
have seen no indication that our grantees in Durban or elsewhere
engaged in anti-Semitic speech or activities. The Foundation does not
support hate speech of any kind.”
Wilde added: “Some of our
human rights and development grantees have certainly been critical of
policies and practices of the Israeli government insofar as these
discriminate against Palestinians or otherwise violate their rights,
according to internationally agreed human rights standards and
“We do not believe that this can be described as ‘agitation,’ ” the statement asserted.
Both LAW and PNGO confirmed that their Ford funds were pivotal.
“Ford has made it possible for us to do much of our work,” a senior LAW official in Jerusalem said in an interview.
Since 1997, LAW has been the recipient of three Ford grants, totaling
$1.1 million, to engage in “advocacy” and participate at international
conferences, according to LAW officials. A Ford Foundation official’s
check of the charity’s confidential computer databases confirmed the
Reached in Ramallah on her cell phone, PNGO program coordinator Renad Qubaj recalled her coordination of activities in Durban.
“In Durban, for sure we published posters saying, ‘End the occupation,’
things like that,” Qubaj said, “and we published a study, had a press
conference, organized our partners and protest marches.”
about finances, she added, “Unfortunately we are very dependent on the
international funds. Not just PNGO but all the Palestinian NGOs — 90 of
them in our group. We get very little money from the Arabs — just needy
family cases. Ford is our biggest funder.”
Allam Jarrar, a
member of the 11-person PNGO steering committee network, and one who
helped organize the events at Durban, explained that Ford money allows
PNGO to have a global scope.
“We do lots of international
advocacy conferences and regional forums,” Jarrar explained in an
interview, “and we always try to represent our political view to
Europe. We attended some women’s conferences [in Europe], plus Durban.”
“Our biggest donations come, of course, from Ford,” Jarrar added. “We
have been in partnership with Ford for a long time — a real
partnership, a real understanding of our needs.
when we go to an international conference, we try to get extra funds
from one of their special budgets,” Jarrar said. “Or sometimes the
conferences’ organizers, if they have their own Ford Foundation
funding, they send us the finances to attend.”
From 1999 to
2002, PNGO received a series of Ford grants totaling $1.4 million, plus
a $270,000 supplement, according to an examination of the Ford
Foundation’s IRS Form 990 filings, Web site databases and annual
reports. PNGO continues to receive at least $350,000 annually from
Ford, according to the data.
LAW and PNGO were hardly the only Ford-backed groups at Durban. The conference was a major enterprise for the Ford Foundation.
In a Ford Web site commentary written prior to Durban, Bradford Smith,
Ford’s vice president for peace and social justice, wrote that the
conference’s issues were “at the core of the Ford Foundation’s mission
since its inception.”
More than a dozen activist organizations —
from Brazil to Sri Lanka — received well over $1 million in Ford grants
specifically earmarked for the production of advertising materials,
public meetings and advocacy at the Durban conference.
this mobilizing, networking and drafting of statements have real impact
on people’s lives?” Smith asked in the statement. His answer: Yes,
“because for years to come they [Ford grantees] and the foundation will
work together to implement the [Durban] Conference Plan of Action.”
Since the Durban conference, LAW has continued its public crusade
against Israel and Zionism, and PNGO, as well as many of its 90
members, continue organizing efforts to try Israeli officials as war
criminals, boycott the Jewish state and label Israel a racist,
illegitimate state that must be stripped of its Jewish identity.
While a number of the Ford-financed organizations at Durban, such as
LAW and PNGO, engaged in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agitation,
certainly many did not.
Either way, Ford Foundation money, as
intended, was a prime mover in the production of the advocacy
pamphlets, posters, workshops and other materials at the conference
that shaped the overall atmosphere.
“I saw the Ford
representative at Durban,” remembers Palkovitz, the Hadassah delegate,
who spotted him in connection with African American reparations issues.
“There was no way to miss the anti-Semitism. The Ford guy would have to
be blind. It was the most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist stuff you ever
“I told the Ford representative I thought it was a mistake
because the whole meeting was being hijacked,” she related. “He
disagreed. He said he believed what the conference was doing was
“We are struck,” said David Harris, executive director
of the American Jewish Committee, “by the scores of Palestinian NGOs
funded by Ford, a number of which have deeply disturbing and troubling
records on Israel and Jews.”
Edwin Black is the author of the
newly released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign
to Create a Master Race” (Four Walls Eight Windows), which investigates
corporate philanthropic involvement in American and Nazi eugenics. In
May 2003, he won the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ award
for best book of the year for his previous book, “IBM and the
Holocaust” (Crown Publishing, 2001).
FUNDING HATE Series
Part 1: Ford funded Durban activists
Part 2: Fordīs Mideast money trail
Part 3: U.S. worries about transparency
Part 4: Case study of a Ford grantee