In a stunning reversal, the Ford Foundation has admitted it erred in funding anti-Israeli Palestinian groups and has vowed to establish tough new guidelines to stop its funds from being used for anti-Semitic action anywhere in the world.
The foundation said it was "disgusted" by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation action taken at the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which the foundation helped finance.
"We now recognize that we did not have a clear picture of the activities, organizations and people involved," conceded foundation President Susan Berresford in a letter this month to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
In addition to establishing new funding guidelines, the foundation's letter said the group promises to cease financing of pivotal anti-Israel groups and even recover funds, where the grant's intent was violated. The foundation's wide-ranging announcement was detailed in a five-page, single-spaced letter to Nadler.
Nadler had circulated a petition signed by 20 members of Congress demanding that the Ford Foundation halt its funding of anti-Israel hate groups. Nadler's petition and the foundation's letter came in the wake of a four-part Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigative series, "Funding Hate," which documented how foundation grantees were using the prestigious organization's money to foment virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation in the Middle East and worldwide -- and in some cases advocacy for armed revolution in Israel.
The series prompted immediate congressional calls for an investigation from Nadler, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance Committee chairman. There were also indications from the Internal Revenue Service, State Department and Justice Department that officials would review the Ford Foundation's funding.
In her letter to Nadler, Berresford wrote, "Recent media stories have raised questions about the conduct of certain Palestinian grantees who participated in the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, and the adequacy of the foundation's oversight of grantees. In response, foundation officers and trustees have discussed these stories with concerned individuals, making clear the numerous steps that the foundation takes to ensure the proper use of its funds."
"Having reassessed our own information on the Durban Conference," the letter continued, "and in continuing talks with others, we now recognize that we did not have a complete picture of the activities, organizations and people involved. Although some Ford-supported grantee organizations repudiated the bigotry they witnessed in Durban, questions remain about others. More troubling still is the fact that many organizations among the large number at the conference did not respond at all."
"We deeply regret that foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior in Durban," the Durban section of the letter concluded.
Nadler and representatives of Jewish groups, with whom foundation officials had met after publication of the JTA series, praised organization's response. Foundation officials could not be reached for comment.
However, Berresford promised more than just apologies. She pledged to take sweeping, new preventive and monitoring measures to address revelations in the JTA investigation that Ford Foundation grantees were openly refusing to sign U.S. government funding guidelines designed to ensure that charitable donations in the Middle East don't end up in terrorist hands.
In a section of Berresford's letter titled, "Prevention of Funding for Terrorism," the Ford Foundation said it regularly checks approximately 4,000 active grantees against a State Department list to identify any that might be on the State Department's proscribed list.
However, the letter continued, new measures will help ensure that funds will not be passed through one organization to another, or that Ford Foundation grantees use other independent monies to promote violence or terrorism.
In addition, Berresford said, the foundation will require additional measures "to make explicit our intolerance for unacceptable activity by any grantee organization."
She said the foundation's standard grant-agreement letter, which grantees worldwide must sign to receive funds from it, "will now include explicit language requiring the organization to agree that it will not promote violence or terrorism. This prohibition applies to all of the organization's funds, not just those provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Organizations unwilling to agree to these terms will not receive foundation support."
The Berresford letter also contained a section titled, "Prevention of Funding for Bigotry and the Destruction of any State," which declared that organizations promoting the delegitimization or destruction of Israel would be ineligible for funding.
"Grantees refusing to sign this agreement will not receive foundation support," the letter said. "We will never support groups that promote or condone bigotry or violence, or that challenge the very existence of legitimate, sovereign states like Israel."
Addressing questions raised in the JTA series about monitoring of funds to grantees, the Berresford letter included a section titled, "Financial Oversight," in which the foundation announced a major new auditing initiative.
Meanwhile, in a special section specifically addressing the Durban conference, the Berresford letter completely reversed the earlier position of its vice president, Alexander Wilde. In statements and letters to the editor, Wilde had insisted, "We do not believe" that the events at Durban "can be described as 'agitation.'"
In her letter, Berresford said, "Ford trustees, officers and staff were disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity seen at Durban, and we were disappointed that it undermined the vital issues on the meeting's agenda. The foundation has reviewed its own information to establish whether Ford grantees took part in unacceptable, ugly and provocative behavior."
"To ensure that we receive a complete picture of grantees involved in the Durban conference, foundation officers and outside advisers will seek out attendees whom we, American Jewish leaders and others concerned about anti-Semitism and hate speech think should be heard on these matters," the letter said.
Promising action, Berresford's letter also said, "If the foundation finds allegations of bigotry and incitement of hatred by particular grantees to be true, in conformance with normal foundation policy, we will cease funding."
In that vein, Berresford's letter announced that the foundation "has decided to cease funding LAW, a grantee that has been the subject of criticism." LAW, whose full name is the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, was a special focus of the investigative series. The group was a principal player in the anti-Israel agitation in Durban. An audit concluded it misappropriated millions in philanthropic funds.
Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders applauded the foundation's dramatic turnabout.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "We welcome the statement by Ford that they will stop funding groups that have been promoting hatred of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel. We look forward to seeing these changes implemented and hope that other foundations that may have engaged in similar conduct will also make the necessary corrections."
Foxman said he welcomed the "the sincere effort by the current leadership of the Ford Foundation to deal responsibly with the past and to put into place safeguards so that these things do not recur."
Edwin Black is the author of the newly released "War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race," which investigates corporate philanthropic involvement in American and Nazi eugenics. The entire JTA investigative series on Ford Foundation funding can be read at www.jta.org/ford.asp