Ford Foundation taps Clinton aide to help with funding controversy

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washington | The Ford Foundation has hired a former Clinton administration official with strong ties to the Jewish community to help promote a new policy forbidding grant recipients from supporting terrorism or bigotry.

The appointment of Stuart Eizenstat comes as key leaders in the U.S. Congress say they will move forward to investigate the use of Ford funds and the accountability of such tax-exempt groups.

Recent editorials, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Jewish Week, have called on Congress to move forward with such hearings.

It also comes as Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — including the major Palestinian umbrella group for non-governmental organizations, which receives Ford funding — said Monday, Jan. 5, that they would not accept U.S. humanitarian aid to protest new U.S. requirements that they sign a pledge guaranteeing that the money will not be used to support terrorism.

The Ford Foundation has been under a microscope since the fall, when a special JTA investigative series found that large financial grants from Ford enabled Palestinian groups virtually to hijack the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and direct attacks against Israel and Jews.

Since the publication of the JTA series, Ford has been working with American Jewish groups and lawmakers to reshape its image and institute new guidelines for grant recipients.

Eizenstat, former deputy Treasury secretary and special representative for Holocaust issues in the Clinton administration, said he also likely will serve as a liaison between Ford and Jewish community leaders.

While some outspoken Jewish leaders want hearings, several key Jewish organizations say they want to give Ford time to implement its new policies and do not support a congressional investigation at this time.

Organizational officials say Jewish support for Ford stems from the foundation’s willingness to work with Jewish groups on the issues, even with possible future Ford funding of programs that combat anti-Semitism.

Eizenstat said his predominant role will be to work with Ford to implement new guidelines for how Ford grantees can use their money.

“We are making explicit what was implicit before — that no grantee can support or participate in any acts of violence, bigotry, intolerance, discrimination or call for the destruction of any state,” Eizenstat said.

Ford is working with KPMG to create a “risk matrix,” assessing which prospective grantees have the potential of violating the foundation’s guidelines. And Ford is requiring groups that receive aid from grantees to sign a pledge identical to the one Ford is crafting for its aid recipients.

Eizenstat said he supports Ford’s humanitarian mission.

“I believe in the work they have been doing, and have seen it on the ground,” he said. “The work they’re doing is essential to Israel’s security as well as America’s security.”

The rules could be similar to new guidelines for NGOs that receive grants from the United States Agency for International Development, which provides government funds for humanitarian projects around the world, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But the Palestinian NGOs, which already had balked at signing a pledge not to support terrorism, went a step further this week in announcing they would not accept U.S. aid because of that requirement.

Officials from the Palestinian NGOs, known as PNGO, said they were boycotting USAID funds for fear that they would not be able to work with Palestinian groups that are identified as terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, for example, reportedly refused $300,000 in aid.

Nadler said he hoped the United States would put diplomatic pressure on Europe and Japan to also refuse to fund Palestinian groups linked to terror, since they may become more enticing avenues of support from Palestinians given the new restrictions being enacted by USAID and Ford.

A senior PNGO official in the Middle East said, “This certificate is against Palestinian law, which makes it illegal to accept conditioned funds.”

“According to the certificate process,” the official said, “most of the national Palestinian parties we work with are terrorists.”

“This certificate did not clarify who is a terrorist,” the official said. “We consider the Israeli occupation to be the terrorists. Therefore, under international law, we have the right to armed resistance.”

Alex Wilde, vice president for communications at the Ford Foundation, said no grantees have yet received their guidelines on improper use of aid, but will get them imminently.

He said his foundation staff is communicating with Palestinian NGOs but would not comment on whether they had heard complaints similar to those expressed against USAID.

“We will not fund any groups that do not sign,” Wilde said.

Investigative reporter Edwin Black contributed to this report.