We need to put pressure on Ford Foundation

Can we stop the Ford Foundation from giving millions of dollars each year to pro-Palestinian organizations?

Last week we published a story on a JTA investigation by reporter Edwin Black, who followed the foundation’s money trail in the Mideast. While some of its money goes to Israeli human rights groups, most of it is aimed at organizations that certainly have not been pro-Israel.

What can be done to prevent a private foundation from aiding groups working against Israel?

The American Jewish Congress has an idea.

The AJCongress will be asking the U.S. Congress to examine the tax-exempt status of foundations such as Ford.

The AJ Congress president, Neil Goldstein, told Black this week, “The purpose of the tax-exemption cannot be to finance terrorists and terrorist-related activities.”

It is important to acknowledge that Black’s investigation never directly tied the Ford Foundation’s funds to terrorism. However, it did find that some of the Mideast groups it funds support Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups on the State Department list of terror organizations.

According to Goldstein, members of Ford Foundation’s board of directors “refuse to answer questions; they are not accountable to anyone but themselves — and all this raises important issues of public policy.”

The AJCongress says it is researching whether it has grounds to file a suit against the Ford Foundation or against the U.S. government to enforce relevant laws.

Let’s hope it finds a way to do this.

Meanwhile, the Ford Foundation needs to broaden the kind of Jewish groups that it funds. Currently, those groups are B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Hamoked and the New Israel Fund — important organizations, but ones that have been critical of the Sharon government or its policies at one time or another.

We aren’t saying groups like New Israel Fund or Rabbis for Human Rights are undeserving. Instead we are suggesting that the list of eligibility be expanded to include non-political Jewish groups that are furthering coexistence. Among them are Seeds for Peace, which brings Palestinian and Israeli youth to a summer camp in America every year. Or Neve Shalom, the Israeli village where both Israelis and Palestinians have learned to live as neighbors.

Unfortunately, we’re not likely to see changes at the Ford Foundation unless Congress pushes for them. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is circulating a statement that calls for the Ford Foundation to police its grantees. But our lawmakers need to do more than simply sign this letter.

What you can do is write to your Congress member and urge him or her to tackle this issue. It’s unconscionable that in this era, when we are fighting terrorism around the world, that American foundations can fund whatever organizations they choose without greater public accountability.