NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 10) 15 July 2003
The Ford Foundation's NGO-Related Middle East Activities
The Ford Foundation is both an NGO in its own right and a major source of funding for thousands of other NGOs around the world. The scale of its awards in the Middle East alone - more than $193 million paid in grants to more than 350 organizations over the past few decades render it an influential and powerful institution. The Ford Foundation is aware of its important role and actively seeks to participate in shaping events, particularly on Israeli-Palestinian issues, as illustrated in this quote:
[t]his is a pivotal moment in the history of Palestine. Decisions made in the immediate future will influence Palestinian society for decades to come
In light of this vital opportunity, the foundation has significantly increased its budget for Palestinian organizations that promote good governance, human rights, civic participation, social equity and cultural revitalization.
In contrast to the Foundation's description of itself as an independent NGO whose goals are to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement, NGO Monitor's analysis shows that it chooses to fund certain organizations with a strong ideological agenda. This contradicts Ford's official literature that asserts that it has no commercial, religious, or governmental affiliations; and claims to work only with organizations that share its democratic goals and principles.1
Source: Ford Foundation Website
It is clear that the Ford Foundation goes to considerable lengths to ensure that it is constantly updated as to how and where its money is being spent. The organization stresses its accountability mechanisms managed through a Board of Trustees composed of prominent public figures and leaders of major corporations (and stresses that it no longer has any connection with the Ford Motor Company). Program officers are responsible for activities in each region to explore opportunities to pursue the foundation's goals, formulate strategies and recommend proposals for funding.2 A program officer of the Ford Foundation reported that there are two accountability measures in place to ensure that funds are being used appropriately; 1) ongoing contact with the program officer, including frequent visits and communication; 2) the presentation of an annual written and a narrative report. The foundation's income is derived solely from investments in international securities and does not accept contributions from any other source. As of January 1, 2000, the Foundation had assets valued at $13 billion and a grant budget of close to $500 million per year.
Types of Organizations the Ford Foundation Funds
A survey of the type of organizations that the Ford Foundation funds in the Middle East, available at http://www.fordfound.org/grants_db/view_grant_detail1.cfm, displays a consistent and marked preference for organizations with a fundamentally politically and ideologically anti-Israel emphasis. The Foundation has noble aims. However, in pursuing these aims, it has shown that a significant proportion of its funds go to supporting politicized organizations whose activities do not live up to either their own principles or those of the Ford Foundation. It is true, as will be illustrated below, that although many of these organizations pay lip service to the rhetoric of human rights language, their activities tell a different tale. As the following survey demonstrates, the Ford Foundation pours funds into tens of organizations whose principles operate in sharp contrast to the Ford Foundation's own guidelines, including a blinkered approach to human rights, the tacit support of terrorism against Israeli civilians and the de-legitimization of the right of the state of Israel to exist.
To describe all of the politicized organizations the Ford Foundation funds is beyond the scope of this report. Yet after careful analysis it is clear that millions of dollars of Ford Foundation money budgeted for community-based advocacy work is being used to foster incitement and hatred against Israel. Many of these organizations are covered in other editions of NGO Monitor such as Miftah that pledges a commitment to international human rights values but devotes its energies to misquoting Zionist leaders and ignores the right of Israelis to live free from terror. A second example is the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and its Palestinian affiliate, al-Haq, that depart from their pledge to uphold the rule of law by ignoring human rights abuses against Israelis and distorting international law. A third example is Physicians for Human Rights Israel that undermine their important medical and humanitarian work by engaging in overt politicization including distributing anti-Occupation brochures in the Israeli press. A fourth is the European-backed Euro-Mediterranean Human Right Network (EMHRN) that pours considerable resources into portraying a one-sided face of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Other recipients of Ford funding include the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, based in the Jabalia refugee camp in north Gaza, that used its $100,000 donation3 from the Ford Foundation to help promote the notion of Israeli war crimes instead of its published objective of encouraging the protection, promotion and respect of human rights in the Occupied Territories, especially economic, cultural and social rights. Mezan is also partnered with ICJ and the UN Commission for Human Rights. Al Mezan Center's website is entirely devoted to a deep-seated hatred against Israel, packed with inflammatory pictures and accusatory statements and reports.
An example of their writing is quoted below:
...[thirty months since the outbreak of the Al Aqsa Intifada] the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have systematically violated Palestinians human rights and perpetrated war crimes on an unprecedented level in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The absence of effective intervention on the part of the international community has allowed these crimes to continue unchecked. The situation in the OPTs has grown even more dangerous since the US and Britain initiated the war on Iraq in March 2003. Palestinian and international human rights organizations were accordingly obliged to intensify their efforts to monitor and reveal Israel's practices especially as all eyes focused on Iraq.
No mention is made of either Palestinian terrorism against Israelis or Israel's efforts to avoid civilian casualties in its fight against terrorists, who hide in densely populated civilian centers. Moreover, there was no escalation in the conflict as the Gulf War started. This was the type of organization that spread fallacious rumors about Israeli plans to transfer large elements of the Palestinian population as the world focused on the Iraq war.
Source: Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (www.mezan.org)
Another example of the type of organization the Ford Foundation chooses to fund is the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights (PICC) that uses the grandiose claim of being the first national human rights institution in the Arab world. Despite its title, the PICC freely admits that is far from independent. Its website (http://www.piccr.org/anrep.html) declares that it was set up by the Presidential Decree of Yasser Arafat and was granted $50,000 to publish and disseminate legal and investigative reports on human rights violations, and for library and staff development.4 It claims its mandate is to promote and safeguard the values of democracy and human rights, the rule of law and good governance, and the value of equality and freedom for all citizens.5 Also, it aims to hold officials and the public on both sides of the conflict accountable for any violations against the mandated values. The organization, however, only published a half-hearted condemnation of political appointments in the PA and has proved ineffective in influencing the gross inadequacies and corruption in the PA judicial system and among its political leadership.
The Ford Foundation's Political Biases
The Ford Foundation does not shy away from getting involved in sensitive political issues. One blatantly political project was restoration work in the Old City of Jerusalem. This project had nothing to do with developing democracy, only bolstering the Arab claim to the Old City of Jerusalem. In the second phase of the project, the Ford Foundation contributed $6 million along with $2 million from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development6 to carry out a comprehensive documentary survey of all the Arab religious and historic buildings in an attempt to prove the Palestinians' rights to these sites. This type of work is particularly sensitive because of Jerusalem's complex and multi-faceted history. Moreover, Ford's language to describe the Middle East also reveals a bias towards the official Palestinian position. In the quote above, note the use of the term Palestine. This in itself is a political statement because under international agreements, this area is referred to as the Palestinian Authority.
These political and ideological biases are also reflected in the Ford Foundation's tendency to fund NGOs that focus on the Israeli Jewish sector that come from a narrow group, and promote a particular agenda. Although Israel boasts a large number of NGOs that fit precisely Ford's funding guidelines in the fields of democracy promotion and social justice, Ford has a clear preference for the most political groups. For example, Rabbis for Human Rights that received a grant of $75,000 in 2002, despite, (or because of) the strong anti-Israel political emphasis of this organization, which prompted key members to resign.7 A second organization is B'Tselem - The Israel Information Center for Monitoring Human Rights in the Occupied Territories that received a grant of $250,000. A third organization that was awarded Ford funding is the American-based UAHC, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. It should be noted, however, that the two Israeli organizations mentioned above invest the majority of their energies into exposing what they describe as human rights infringements by Israel among the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and only focus energies on educational issues inside Israel. Both have published articles and reports that have been aroused strong controversy in Israel and have been questioned about their methods of compiling information. Ford's involvement with the UAHC is a $500,000 award to a project encouraging the American Jewish population to support a negotiated settlement in the Middle East on the principle of Land for Peace. Other Jewish organizations have questioned the motivation for such a large donation8 and have accused the Foundation of trying to interfere in the relationship between American Jewry and Israel. Ford also funds a number of Arab Israeli organizations such as the Galilee Society that works to develop the social and scientific spheres in the Israeli Arab population. One can safely conclude that these four organizations reflect one particular stream in Israeli society and are not a representative sample of Israeli civil society.
The Ford Foundation is a large, professional organization with sophisticated internal accountability mechanisms. Its projects are monitored and funds are awarded after considerable checks and reports. The program officers are in constant contact with the recipient organizations and are aware of where and how their money is being spent. The fact that Ford has funded so many highly partisan and politicized projects and organizations, is a statement of the organization's own political objectives.
It is important that the organization decides what direction it intends to take. It must either admit that it is not apolitical and has an ideological agenda with regard to the Middle East. Or it should withdraw funding and support from the organizations examined in this report and others that exploit the label of human rights to pursue a partisan agenda. It is simply impossible for an organization to claim that it exists to promote democracy and human achievement while supporting organizations sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel.
7. See NGO Monitor (Vol. 1, No. 8) Shomrei Mishpat Organization - Rabbis for Human Rights - broadens its focus beyond the Palestinian issue