An Israeli soldier stands guard in the West Bank town of Hebron, which is starkly divided between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents. (Photo/Flickr-pal_pics CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
An Israeli soldier stands guard in the West Bank town of Hebron, which is starkly divided between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents. (Photo/Flickr-pal_pics CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

S.F. Federation under scrutiny for grants supporting West Bank settlements

The San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation funneled $176 million in donor-directed grants to charities and other groups in the U.S. and Israel during the 2016-17 fiscal year. The funds went to nearly 3,000 organizations.

Most are a source of little discord — from the American Heart Association to the Zohar Dance Company. But a few of the groups have come under scrutiny because they operate outside the Green Line that delineates the pre-1967 borders of Israel.

The mission of two in particular — Central Fund of Israel and Friends of Ir David — is to support settlements, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. In a series of articles about the Jewish Federations of North America funding Jewish life beyond the Green Line, Haaretz singled out the S.F. Federation-facilitated grants to those two organizations.

“In 2015, for example, the Jewish Federation of San Francisco gave $275,300 to Central Fund of Israel, which supports a number of settlements … [and] also donated $10,000 to Friends of Ir David, which settles Jews in previously Palestinian-owned houses in Silwan, East Jerusalem,” Haaretz reported. (East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967, but is not recognized as Israeli territory by Palestinian supporters.)

Danny Grossman
Danny Grossman

Danny Grossman, CEO of the Federation, pointed out that neither organization received money directly from the Federation. The source of the grants was donor-directed funds managed by the Federation — the donors choose the recipients of their largesse in accordance with Federation guidelines.

Grossman also said in an interview that Central Fund of Israel has since been removed from the list of acceptable groups because it violates the guidelines, although he did not specify which guidelines it fails to meet. Friends of Ir David remains on the list, Grossman said.

Two other groups that received funds through the JCF in 2015 — the Hebron Fund and Honenu — also were taken off the list of acceptable recipients in 2016-17, according to Grossman.

The Federation guidelines, adopted in 2010, block it from sending donor-advised funds or supporting-foundation grants to organizations “that through their mission, activities or partnerships: endorse or promote anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry, violence or other extremist views; actively seek to proselytize Jews away from Judaism; or, advocate for, or endorse, undermining the legitimacy of Israel as a secure independent, democratic Jewish state, including through participation in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, in whole or in part.”

Grossman said the guidelines do not include mention of settlements or activities beyond the Green Line.

“Nowhere in there does it say one can’t fund across the Green Line or one can’t fund settlements. But when it comes to organizations that foment violence or bigotry, we refuse those grants,” he said.

“These assessments we make are fluid because the organizations are fluid. We don’t publish a so-called blacklist or a no-fund list. We make the decisions with the best information we have at the time.”

J Street U, the campus arm of the Israel advocacy group J Street, has for the past few years been looking into which organizations receive funds from the JFNA, identifying several through the S.F. Federation that it contends support settlements or are Islamophobic. J Street U held a public forum in April with Grossman to air those concerns.

Zoe Goldblum
Zoe Goldblum

Zoe Goldblum, a Stanford University senior who is president of J Street U’s national student board, said in an interview she was happy that Grossman promised to look into the matter.

“I think that the Federation understands where we’re coming from and is taking that into consideration,” she said. “We’re looking forward to them continuing to reconsider this and to hopefully revising their process.”

But Michael Bien, whose request that his donor-advised funds go to Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee was denied by the Federation because those organizations support BDS, said he thinks the guidelines are unfair. If it is going to ban contributions to organizations that support BDS or bigotry, Bien said, it should also ban money to settlements.

“I’m just saying they need to have a more open and transparent process. There’s no process. There’s no committee,” he said. “We still don’t know how bad you have to be to get on the blacklist, and we know it’s easy to get on the blacklist if you’re a liberal organization.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.