AIPAC — Let the Sun Shine In


By most measures, last week’s policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was a success.

The sessions were substantive and well-led; the speakers top-rank. The large number of under-40 delegates suggested the organization’s future is strong.

Despite the continuing federal investigation into the activities of two recently fired AIPAC officials, a record number of top politicians showed up to pay homage and to connect with the big givers in the corridors of the Washington Convention Center. Rumors about AIPAC’s diminished clout appear premature.

But on one issue, AIPAC keeps repeating past mistakes. The organization remains more closed to outsiders than any other in Jewish life, feeding suspicions that it is up to no good. And that perception could come home to roost if, as Israeli newspapers have reported, the two ex-employees are soon charged under the Espionage Act.

There’s a history here.

Years ago, one of the recently fired employees etched AIPAC’s reputation in stone when he said “a lobby is like a night flower; it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”

A schizophrenic AIPAC seems to cherish that image even as it seeks public acknowledgement of its many accomplishments.

AIPAC’s top professionals are less available to the press than those of any other Jewish group; its members are warned that the press is an adversary to be avoided.

The policy is carried to ridiculous extremes. Asked for impressions of last week’s conference, one delegate said “we have a policy, you have to talk to our press person.”

This person was not being asked if AIPAC trafficked in classified documents; the question was more about whether she and her colleagues were having a good time and learning a lot. But even that was apparently too much openness for AIPAC.

AIPAC’s closed-door policy creates a mood of hostility and suspicion that provides endless ammunition for critics and inevitably finds its way into news stories. If you detect a slight note of glee in some of the reporting on AIPAC’s recent woes, it’s not unrelated to the frustration so many reporters experience in dealing with AIPAC.

It also means AIPAC often doesn’t get credit for its accomplishments — something that clearly irks the group’s leaders, but apparently not enough to open the doors a crack.

Other Jewish organizations have become skilled at working closely with reporters — providing access to their top staffers, issue specialists and lay leaders, giving regular “background” briefings on issues and encouraging a give-and-take relationship with journalists.

Sometimes that means exposing their warts, but on balance these organizations enjoy far better press coverage — not because happy reporters want to reward their policies, but simply because those policies let reporters do their jobs.

This isn’t a slam on AIPAC’s press people, who are just following policies laid down by those at the top of the organizational food chain, where anti-media hostility is most intense.

But in 2005, AIPAC’s carefully cultivated night-flower image could blossom into real damage to the group’s political standing if the federal investigation and any resulting court cases take a few wrong turns.

AIPAC leaders claim, and there’s no reason to doubt them, that the group is not a target of the federal investigators who are looking into leaked classified documents.

But if its former officials are charged under the Espionage Act, the cloud over AIPAC is likely to darken as troubling questions of management and accountability are raised. The group will face a new level of scrutiny as current and former officials testify under oath.

And then, its distrustful relations with the press and its secretive image may compound any damage — not legally, but in terms of image.

AIPAC leaders understand the power of image, which is why they work so hard to get a massive turnout of top-rank politicians at the annual policy conference. Nothing says “power” as emphatically as a hall packed with members of Congress.

AIPAC may not have done anything illegal, but the image of a lobby group with employees involved in something that will inevitably be reported as spying can’t help but damage its reputation and its standing with the politicians who are its bread and butter. The group’s troubled relations with the press and its longstanding secretiveness will make it harder to limit the damage.

That would be a disaster for the Jewish community and for Israel. For all its faults — and every organization has them — AIPAC remains the indispensable engine behind the pro-Israel movement in this country. Its lobbying is the most important factor in the almost wall-to-wall support for Israel in Congress; no other group can pick up the slack if AIPAC’s standing is harmed.

The current crisis suggests the need for some hard-headed self-examination by AIPAC leaders. And one item on their agenda should be the group’s relations with the outside world.

 

Maybe it’s time to pluck the night flower and let the sun shine in.

AIPAC Will Focus on Policy at Gathering


Inside the massive Washington Convention Center, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be talking about the Gaza Strip withdrawal and the Iranian nuclear threat.

However, in the hallways and the social gatherings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference next week, talk is likely to focus on the investigation into two former AIPAC staffers and the effect it could have on AIPAC’s ability to lobby for Israel.

AIPAC will be tasked with keeping its members focused on the important issues facing Israel and maintaining support in Congress if the Gaza pullout, planned for this summer, goes awry. The effort to keep attention focused on Iran’s presumed drive for nuclear weapons is also high on its agenda.

The organization is still perceived as a “behemoth,” congressional officials say, and will be taken seriously when it meets May 22-24 — but a cloud will linger over the proceedings.

“You deal with them as you would normally deal with them,” one congressional staffer said. He compared it to a friend who has a health problem: You don’t talk about the problem, and you hope that it resolves itself quickly.

There are two traditional success markers to an AIPAC policy conference. One is a roll call of members of Congress, diplomats and administration officials attending the Monday night dinner — last year there were nearly 200, including more than 40 senators — and the other is a lobbying day Tuesday, when thousands of AIPAC members descend on Capitol Hill.

How many lawmakers turn up Monday night and how the lobbyists fare Tuesday will be closely watched by the organization, its supporters and its critics. Some insiders, who asked not to be identified, say there may be apprehension about working with AIPAC, because of the FBI probe.

“I think most members of Congress and staffers who are invited to meet with AIPAC constituents and go to the dinner will still go,” a congressional aide said. “But I’m convinced, in the back of everybody’s mind, there is a kernel of concern and doubt that maybe we shouldn’t be playing ball with AIPAC the way we always have.”

AIPAC’s problems stem from an FBI investigation into Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst arrested earlier this month and accused of verbally passing classified information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s research director, and Keith Weissman, a top Iran analyst at AIPAC.

AIPAC fired both men last month, and Rosen associates tell JTA he expects to be indicted. AIPAC officials claim that they have been assured the probe is not targeting the organization or any other staffers.

“Nobody knows what the implications of this legal situation are,” a congressional staffer said. “It could be a blip, and AIPAC has had blips before.”

AIPAC has gone to great lengths to stress its bona fides, publicizing Rice, Sharon and other scheduled speakers, including leaders of both congressional chambers from both parties. Sharon’s presence is considered particularly significant. Israeli prime ministers rarely travel to the United States if they don’t have an audience with the president.

Sharon is expected to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York before heading to Washington, but has planned no political meetings, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said. Sharon also is expected to be welcomed in New York at a rally Sunday, a measure of American Jewish support for the disengagement plan.

“Prime Minister Sharon is coming to stand with the American pro-Israel community at a crucial moment in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesman Andrew Schwartz said.

AIPAC also is boasting about attendance at the conference, which is expected to top 5,000 people, including nearly 1,000 students.

Such self-promotion is unusual for the organization, which generally feels it can be most effective if it keeps its achievements behind the scenes. In the past, major speakers have not been confirmed until the week before the conference, and officials play down the expected attendance, instead of talking it up.

AIPAC officials insist that this year’s conference is business as usual, though they referred questions to Patrick Dorton, a Washington publicist whose experience in scandal management includes shepherding accounting giant Arthur Andersen.

“We’re promoting the policy conference the same way we’ve done it in years past,” Dorton said. “AIPAC continues to be proud of the work it does on behalf of its membership.”

A source close to AIPAC said Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director, will touch on the investigation briefly in a speech to delegates Sunday, but mostly will focus on AIPAC’s policy agenda.

The organization has real work to do. Topping its agenda will be preparing Congress for the Israeli withdrawal. The lobby is preparing a letter for lawmakers to send to President Bush, underscoring how the United States should support the peace process. Bush already has expressed interest in assisting Israel in the development of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, the regions likeliest to absorb some 9,000 settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank. Israel has suggested that resettlement costs could run as high as $3.5 billion.

AIPAC will be charged with laying the groundwork for pushing through any additional aid packages. In addition to direct aid, that could mean new U.S. loan guarantees for Israel.

It will be important for AIPAC to show that it backs the disengagement plan, especially since it has a hawkish reputation in Washington. A draft of the group’s action agenda, which will be debated in executive committee at the conference, calls for supporting the “U.S. government’s backing” of the plan, rather than the plan itself. Officials said that was in keeping with the group’s philosophy of lobbying the U.S. government, not trying to influence Israeli policy.

In a twist, the disengagement plan could soon pit AIPAC against a traditional ally — Christian evangelicals, including several prominent lawmakers, who believe the disengagement violates biblical precepts and offers Palestinian terrorists a triumph. Dovish groups welcomed the tilt.

“It’s very significant that AIPAC intends to adopt formal policy language that embraces disengagement, and specifically the Bush administration’s endorsement of disengagement,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

Disengagement opponents said they won’t try to scuttle AIPAC’s support for the plan, which they believe is inevitable. Instead, they’ll try to ensure that any resolutions reflect the trauma it will impose on settlers.

Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America president, said language should refer to the evacuation of thousands of “women and children from Gaza” and the northern West Bank “by force if necessary, and abandoning Jewish homes, schools and synagogues where Jews have been living for 35 years.”

Klein plans to continue protesting the plan but has pledged not to lobby against U.S. funding related to it.

As usual, the conference will see some protests. A coalition of right-wing Jewish groups are coordinating buses from New York to Washington, and plan to sleep outside the Convention Center in tents, simulating Gaza settlers who will be expelled from their homes under the withdrawal plan. The Council for National Interest, a pro-Arab group, also will protest, claiming undue Israeli influence in American foreign policy.

AIPAC is not shutting out disengagement dissenters. Natan Sharansky, who resigned recently from Israel’s Cabinet because he believes the time is not ripe for the withdrawal, will speak Sunday night. The former Soviet dissident was expected to speak of democratic ideals, not disengagement.

Another crucial plank at the conference is backing for the Iran Freedom Support bill, a measure to strengthen sanctions against Iran by penalizing foreign countries that invest in Iran’s energy sector and to provide funding to democratic groups in the Islamic republic.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), codifies much of what already is in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, but includes a provision that would notify investors if a fund they own has shares in a company that is subject to sanctions. The goal is to create an investor backlash against companies that deal with Iran.

AIPAC also will focus on the Iranian nuclear threat. Delegates will learn about the nuclear fuel cycle and how Iran appears to be seeking a nuclear bomb.

The lobby will continue to stress the annual passage of foreign aid. This year’s aid package includes $2.28 billion in military aid for Israel and $240 million in economic assistance, as well as $150 million for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

Bush Touts Palestine in Europe


Â

President Bush is declaring his hope for a Palestinian state loud and clear, and no wonder — it’s almost the price of entry to the alliance with Europe that he urgently wants to revive.

Some in the American Jewish community at first were uneasy about Bush’s push for the Palestinians, but Bush’s actions show that his commitment to Israel remains as solid as ever.

Just as Bush repeatedly has touted the benefits of a future Palestinian state at each stop along this week’s European tour, his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is determined to keep the discussion limited to the here and now when an international conference on the Palestinians convenes March 1 in London.

Rice will not allow the conference to consider the geographic contours of a Palestinian state, and instead will focus on how the United States and Europe can help the Palestinians reform a society corrupted by years of venal terrorist rule under the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

“This will definitely have a more practical and pragmatic orientation,” an administration official said.

That’s fine with the Europeans, who are happy to see progress on a topic they once felt Bush neglected — even if, for now, the progress is rhetorical.

“This is probably good music to introduce the London conference,” a European diplomat said of Bush’s repeated reference to his hope that he will see a democratic Palestine.

Bush’s push for Palestinian empowerment at first alarmed some Jewish organizational leaders, who wanted to see if newly elected P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas would carry out Palestinian promises to quash terrorism.

Now that Abbas apparently is beginning to make good on his pledge — deploying troops throughout the Gaza Strip to stop attacks, and sacking those responsible for breaches — Jewish communal leaders are more on board.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week formally welcomed Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and congressional insiders say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had a role in making a U.S. House of Representatives resolution praising Abbas even more pro-Palestinian then the original draft.

One factor that temporarily tempered Jewish enthusiasm was Bush’s determination to rebuild a transatlantic alliance frayed by the Iraq war.

Bush wants the Europeans on board in his plans for democratizing Iraq, corralling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and expanding global trade. But Jewish officials have felt burned in recent years by the Europeans’ perceived pro-Palestinian tilt and their failure to contain resurgent anti-Semitism.

Don’t get too exercised, cautioned David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We should be careful every time we hear the word ‘Europe’ not to get allergic,” he said. “Bush is trying to channel the Europeans to focus more on consensus issues.”

That may be so, but the consensus appears to be shifting. Bush’s calls for Palestinian statehood have never been so frequent or emphatic.

“I’m also looking forward to working with our European partners on the Middle Eastern peace process,” Bush said Tuesday after meeting with top European Commission officials.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair “is hosting a very important meeting in London, and that is a meeting at which President Abbas will hear that the United States and the E.U. is desirous of helping this good man set up a democracy in the Palestinian territories, so that Israel will have a democratic partner in peace,” Bush continued. “I laid out a vision, the first U.S. president to do so, which said that our vision is two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is the goal. And I look forward to working concretely with our European friends and allies to achieve that goal.”

The day before, at another Brussels speech, Bush was applauded when he called for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and a freeze on Israeli settlement building.

More substantively, Rice last week broke with years of U.S. policy and told Congress that $350 million in aid Bush has requested for the Palestinians — including $200 million to be delivered as soon as possible — will go directly to 34 P.A.-run projects, and not through nongovernmental organizations, a practice that had helped to lessen corruption.

The administration believes “that’s the quickest way to do it,” Rice said. “This is not the Palestinian Finance Ministry of four or five years ago, where I think we would not have wanted to see a dime go in.”

That stunned members of the House Appropriations Committee, where Rice was testifying. Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.) asked Rice to repeat her reply because he couldn’t believe it.

“You can understand why we’re a little tense about that,” he told Rice.

One reassurance for anyone skeptical of the administration’s plans: The Israeli government is at ease with the aid plans and is happy to sit out the London conference.

But while Israel welcomes European assistance with economic and political reforms in Palestinian areas, it looks askance at any European attempt to help with security. Israeli officials prefer to channel all security measures through the Americans, fearing that multiple security initiatives run by different partners will create chaos.

The Europeans have not entirely abandoned the idea, however. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, said sending troops to keep the peace might yet be considered.

“If there would be a peace agreement, if there would be a need for parties to see a NATO role, I think we would have a discussion around the NATO table,” he said Tuesday on CNN.

While the Europeans are happy to limit discussions for now to such issues as infrastructure and democratic institutions, that won’t always be the case.

The London conference “will show the Palestinians that the world is getting things done, and now it’s their turn [to implement reforms],” the European diplomat said. “But you can’t pretend that what is achieved in London will last 25 years. We need to go on from there.”

Â

Sharon Plan Raises Myriad Questions


Ariel Sharon’s major policy statement at the Herzliya
security conference last week might have made world headlines, but it’s far
from clear what the Israeli prime minister has in mind. Sharon called on
Palestinian leaders to open negotiations with Israel and threatened unilateral
steps if they don’t, but he did not spell out those steps.

In fact, Sharon’s long-awaited Dec. 18 speech, in which he
broached the possibility of a unilateral Israeli pullback from the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, raised more questions than it provided answers.

For example, does Sharon envision a major Israeli withdrawal
and a large-scale evacuation of Jewish settlements? Or will the pullback be
minimal, with few settlements evacuated and the Palestinians surrounded on all
sides by security fences? Will Sharon be able to get American support for his
new policy? Will he listen to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or to the Shin
Bet security service, which are urging him to go in opposite directions? Will
he actually be able to dismantle dozens of settlements, assuming he wants to?
And what are the likely political ramifications in Israel?

Local pundits give two very different readings of the prime
minister’s intentions.

According to one reading, Sharon’s plan is to redeploy
Israeli forces behind the security fence being built between Israel and the West
Bank, and to “relocate” dozens of Israeli settlements from the Palestinian to
the Israeli side. According to this scenario, the fence would be no more than a
temporary security line, and the Palestinians would have the option of coming
back to the negotiating table at any time to set final borders.

But there is another, widely divergent reading — that Sharon
intends to complete a second, “eastern fence,” along the Jordan Valley,
enclosing the Palestinians between the two fences on about 50 percent to 60
percent of the West Bank. Under this scenario, Israel would retain the Jordan Valley
as a buffer zone between the Palestinian entity and Jordan.

Whether the Palestinians have territorial contiguity or only
contiguity of movement will depend on which way Sharon goes.

The IDF’s Central Command, responsible for the West Bank,
has drawn up a contingency plan called “Everything Flows,” in which a system of
bridges, tunnels and bypass roads provides the Palestinians with freedom of
movement, without full territorial contiguity.

Whether Sharon gets American support will depend on which
plan he adopts. The United States insists that Israel do nothing to undermine
President Bush’s vision of a viable Palestinian state. That would seem to rule
out American support for the eastern fence plan.

For his part, Sharon has said that whatever he does will be
fully coordinated with the United States. Indeed, there is nothing more
important in his foreign policy doctrine than Israel’s U.S. ties. Therefore,
it’s hard to see Sharon pressing for the eastern fence scenario.

On the other hand, for years Sharon has been carrying around
a map based on “Israeli interests” which, like the eastern fence scenario,
leaves the Palestinians with no more than 60 percent of the West Bank. If the
post-withdrawal lines seem to correspond to Sharon’s “Israeli interests” map,
suspicion will grow that he is trying to impose a permanent arrangement on the
Palestinians based on a minimal Israeli withdrawal.

The IDF, however, is urging Sharon to be generous with the
Israeli withdrawal. The army’s planning branch, under Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland,
has presented Sharon with an ambitious plan leading to the establishment of a
Palestinian state with temporary borders.

The IDF is asking Sharon to show the Palestinians and the
international community how serious he is by handing over West Bank cities to
the Palestinian Authority — a process that until now has been conditional on
Palestinian willingness to fight terrorism — as soon as possible.

The army is also advising Sharon to lift roadblocks and
allow free movement between Palestinian cities, even at the risk of more
terrorist attacks against Israel. The IDF’s argument is that if such moves are
not reciprocated by the Palestinians, the world will be much more understanding
of a subsequent, unilateral Israeli move. If the moves are reciprocated, then a
negotiated settlement could be in the cards.

The weight Sharon attaches to the IDF view can be gleaned
from the fact that Eiland, who is slated to become head of the National
Security Council, has been appointed to lead a team of experts fleshing out
Sharon’s unilateral program.

But there also are other, opposing voices in the Israeli
defense establishment. The Shin Bet is urging Sharon to proceed very carefully
and not hand over cities or lift roadblocks until Palestinian terrorism stops.

The Shin Bet argues that the Palestinians are doing nothing
to combat terrorism. These officials say that a devastating Oct. 4 suicide
bombing in a Haifa restaurant may have been the last major terrorist attack,
but only because Israeli forces have succeeded in foiling 26 suicide bombing
attempts since then.

Perhaps the biggest question for Sharon is whether he will
be able to relocate dozens of Jewish settlements.

So far, the government has not set up a team to negotiate
with settlers over compensation or alternative housing.

Even if it does, the right-wing, ideological settlers — as
distinct from those who moved to the settlements for lifestyle reasons or
because of government financial incentives — are unlikely to cooperate.

The government already is having difficulty dismantling
sparsely populated, illegal settlement outposts; when it comes to large,
authorized settlements, settler opposition is sure to be much fiercer.

Every such relocation would be a major operation for the
army. Given the army’s manpower limitations, the settlements probably would
have to be dealt with one by one, in an emotionally wrenching and
time-consuming process.

Sharon also can expect opposition from within his own Likud
Party and from the far right. As soon as a relocation program goes into effect,
the National Religious Party and the National Union are expected to quit the
governing coalition, and some Likud lawmakers will stop automatically
supporting the government.

Eleven of the Likud’s 40 caucus members already have signed
a petition demanding that any settlement relocation first be authorized by the
caucus. Others are pressing for a full-scale debate on Sharon’s new policy at
next month’s party convention.

The immediate test for Sharon will be whether he can pass
the 2004 budget by the end of the year. Last minute, right-wing opposition to
the budget could have a far-reaching effect on Sharon’s ability to move his
policy forward.

Of course, all the unilateral arguments would become
irrelevant if Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei were to come to
the table and negotiate a deal with Sharon on the basis of the internationally
backed “road map” peace plan.

But few on the Israeli side, including Sharon, believe that
will happen.

That leaves the two key, and so far unanswered, questions:
Which unilateral plan will Sharon adopt, and will he have the political support
to implement it? Â


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

Ford Funded Durbin Anti-Israel Activists


In August 2001, thousands of human rights activists from around the globe gathered in Durban, South Africa, for a United Nations conference that participants hoped would address racial injustice plaguing humanity, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka to the United States.

But after more than a year of preparatory conferences held in Iran, Switzerland, Chile, France and Senegal, it became clear to Israeli officials and Jewish organizational leaders that Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and their allies, had manipulated the agenda of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism into a focused indictment of Israel as an illegitimate apartheid, colonial and genocidal regime.

Moreover, the proposed language of conference resolutions would deny or dilute the Holocaust and espouse an openly anti-Semitic stance.

Many Western leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, declined to attend what U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a member of the American delegation to the conference, termed “a transparent attempt to delegitimize the moral argument for Israel’s existence.” As expected, anti-Israel agitation, anti-Zionist propaganda and blatant anti-Semitism permeated the eight-day Durban affair. Posters displaying Nazi icons and Jewish caricatures, anti-Israel protest marches, organized jeering, inciting leaflets and anti-Jewish cartoons were everywhere, as was orchestrated anti-American agitation.

A virulent resolution drafted by nongovernmental organizations at the Durban conference declared Israel a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “genocide and ethnic cleansing.” The spectacle was so noxious that Powell withdrew the American delegation.

Who financed a number of the groups at Durban that printed and distributed these materials, purchased advertising and conducted workshops?

“No one knew where the money was coming from to fund all these NGOs,” remembers Judith Palkovitz of Pittsburgh, Hadassah general secretary and a delegate to Durban. “I assumed it was a foreign group — say, Saudi Arabia.”

When asked, one Jewish communal leader after another, and several State Department officials, also guessed: Saudi Arabia.

They were wrong.

The Ford Foundation, one of America’s largest philanthropic institutions — and arguably the most prestigious — was a multimillion-dollar funder of many human rights NGOs attending Durban.

That is the conclusion of a two-month Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigation, involving interviews with dozens of individuals in seven countries, as well as a review of more than 9,000 pages of government and organizational documents.

Ford — which was endowed with funds donated by Henry and Edsel Ford but no longer maintains any ties to the Ford Motor Company — has long been known as a funder of Palestinian causes.

But most observers did not suspect the extent of the foundation’s involvement in funding of groups that engage in anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian activities both inside and outside the Middle East.

With hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into Mideast NGOs by numerous private foundations here and in Europe, government and communal officials are raising significant questions about transparency, how the money in Palestinian areas is being used and whether funders such as the Ford Foundation are exercising proper controls.

Increasingly, federal agencies concerned with fighting terrorism are asking: When money goes in one NGO’s pocket, where does it go and whom does it benefit?

The Jewish representatives at Durban “didn’t understand the efforts, the financing and the organization that went into hijacking the conference,” recalled Reva Price, Washington representative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and a Durban delegate.

“We knew we were walking into problems because of what happened in the early meeting in Teheran,” Price said. “But we didn’t understand how organized was the opposition and what a well-financed campaign it was.”

Many Jewish organizational officials who participated in the long process complained that a key organization responsible for the methodical hijacking of the conference was the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, which operates under the acronym LAW.

LAW officials took leadership positions on the Durban conference steering committees, conducted workshops and even sponsored a pre-conference mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip for South African delegates to convince them that Israel was an apartheid state.

“LAW was instrumental in creating the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic focus at Durban,” confirmed Andrew Srulevitch, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based group that monitors the world organization.

But it was not just LAW. The Palestinian NGO Network, or PNGO, an umbrella organization of some 90 Palestinian NGOs, as well as many of its constituent groups, diligently became embedded in the conference bureaucracy that created the hostile environment at Durban.

PNGO led the move to craft an NGO resolution that would “call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,” including “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, [and] the full cessation of all links [diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training] between all states and Israel.”

Durban was not a one-time investment for the Ford Foundation — a major funder of LAW and PNGO.

Indeed, through its Cairo office, Ford has extended more than $35 million in grants to some 272 Arab and Palestinian organizations during the two-year 2000-2001 period alone — the most recent years for which data is available — plus 62 grants to individuals that total more than $1.4 million, according to Ford’s Web site as accessed in mid-October 2003.

Since the 1950s, the foundation’s Beirut and Cairo offices have awarded more than $193 million to more than 350 Middle East organizations, almost entirely Arab, Islamic or Palestinian.

Ford’s Web site, at www.fordfound.org, offers detailed information about its Middle East grants. On the site as of mid-October, “Palestine” is frequently mentioned on its Mideast pages, but Israel’s name is absent. Moreover, the Web site’s shaded map of the geographical region from Egypt to Lebanon and Jordan blanks out over Israel’s territory, even though Ford does make grants to both Jewish and Arab organizations in Jerusalem.

Initially, despite more than two dozen requests by phone and in writing over a period of several weeks, the Ford Foundation’s communications vice-president Alex Wilde, deputy media director Thea Lurie and media associate Joe Voeller refused to answer any questions or clarify any issues regarding the foundation’s funding of groups engaged in anti-Israeli agitation and anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist activity.

However, after this investigation was completed, Wilde did send a six-page written statement, declaring, “We have seen no indication that our grantees in Durban or elsewhere engaged in anti-Semitic speech or activities. The Foundation does not support hate speech of any kind.”

Wilde added: “Some of our human rights and development grantees have certainly been critical of policies and practices of the Israeli government insofar as these discriminate against Palestinians or otherwise violate their rights, according to internationally agreed human rights standards and international law.”

“We do not believe that this can be described as ‘agitation,'” the statement asserted.

Both LAW and PNGO confirmed that their Ford funds were pivotal.

“Ford has made it possible for us to do much of our work,” a senior LAW official in Jerusalem said in an interview.

Since 1997, LAW has been the recipient of three Ford grants, totaling $1.1 million, to engage in “advocacy” and participate at international conferences, according to LAW officials. A Ford Foundation official’s check of the charity’s confidential computer databases confirmed the information.

Reached in Ramallah on her cell phone, PNGO program coordinator Renad Qubaj recalled her coordination of activities in Durban.

“In Durban, for sure we published posters saying, ‘End the occupation,’ things like that,” Qubaj said, “and we published a study, had a press conference, organized our partners and protest marches.”

Asked about finances, she added, “Unfortunately, we are very dependent on the international funds. Not just PNGO but all the Palestinian NGOs — 90 of them in our group. We get very little money from the Arabs — just needy family cases. Ford is our biggest funder.”

Allam Jarrar, a member of the 11-person PNGO steering committee network, and one who helped organize the events at Durban, explained that Ford money allows PNGO to have a global scope.

“We do lots of international advocacy conferences and regional forums,” Jarrar explained in an interview, “and we always try to represent our political view to Europe. We attended some women’s conferences [in Europe], plus Durban.”

“Our biggest donations come, of course, from Ford,” Jarrar added. “We have been in partnership with Ford for a long time — a real partnership, a real understanding of our needs.

“Of course, when we go to an international conference, we try to get extra funds from one of their special budgets,” Jarrar said. “Or sometimes the conferences’ organizers, if they have their own Ford Foundation funding, they send us the finances to attend.”

From 1999 to 2002, PNGO received a series of Ford grants totaling $1.4 million, plus a $270,000 supplement, according to an examination of the Ford Foundation’s IRS Form 990 filings, Web site databases and annual reports. PNGO continues to receive at least $350,000 annually from Ford, according to the data.

LAW and PNGO were hardly the only Ford-backed groups at Durban. The conference was a major enterprise for the Ford Foundation.

In a Ford Web site commentary written prior to Durban, Bradford Smith, Ford’s vice-president for peace and social justice, wrote that the conference’s issues were “at the core of the Ford Foundation’s mission since its inception.”

More than a dozen activist organizations — from Brazil to Sri Lanka — received Ford grants in excess of $1 million specifically earmarked for the production of advertising materials, public meetings and advocacy at the Durban conference.

“Does all this mobilizing, networking and drafting of statements have real impact on people’s lives?” Smith asked in the statement. His answer: Yes, “because for years to come they [Ford grantees] and the foundation will work together to implement the [Durban] Conference Plan of Action.”

Since the Durban conference, LAW has continued its public crusade against Israel and Zionism and PNGO, as well as many of its 90 members; continued to organize efforts to try Israeli officials as war criminals; and boycotted the Jewish state and labeled Israel a racist, illegitimate state that must be stripped of its Jewish identity.

While a number of the Ford-financed organizations at Durban, such as LAW and PNGO, engaged in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agitation, certainly many did not.

Either way, Ford Foundation money, as intended, was a prime mover in the production of the advocacy pamphlets, posters, workshops and other materials at the conference that shaped the overall atmosphere.

“I saw the Ford representative at Durban,” remembered Palkovitz, the Hadassah delegate, who spotted him in connection with African American reparations issues. “There was no way to miss the anti-Semitism. The Ford guy would have to be blind. It was the most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist stuff you ever saw.

“I told the Ford representative I thought it was a mistake because the whole meeting was being hijacked,” she related. “He disagreed. He said he believed what the conference was doing was correct.”

“We are struck,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, “by the scores of Palestinian NGOs funded by Ford, a number of which have deeply disturbing and troubling records on Israel and Jews.”

The entire JTA investigative series on Ford Foundation
funding can be read at www.jta.org/ford.asp .

Safe in the Senate?


A Republican Senate means Republican committee chairs, and for many Jewish organizational leaders, a step backward toward more defensive lobbying tactics.

Jewish lobbyists say that when the Republicans take control of the full Congress in January, they will need to respond more to legislation they oppose rather than help craft laws that fit with their priorities. They say they will need to work hard to remove elements of some measures that are seen as too conservative, such as those related to charitable choice, which allows federal funds to religious organizations to provide social services. And they will work with lawmakers to construct measures that address their agenda, such as hate crimes legislation.

Still, many are holding out hope that there will be wiggle room to get some items on their agenda through the 108th Congress.

Among the people expected to head key committees are: Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). who will chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who takes over the Senate Judiciary Committee and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who will head the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On foreign issues, where Jewish leaders say the debates are often more bipartisan, the Senate Armed Services Committee will now be chaired by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be manned once again by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who first chaired it in 1985 and 1986.

Jewish groups say their relationship with Gregg will be important in the next Congress. His committee is expected to take up school voucher issues, which most Jewish organizations oppose, and will likely shape the debate on prescription drugs and Social Security privatization.

Jewish activists say they have worked with Gregg on several issues, and have had a running dialogue with his staffers over the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. The legislation would strengthen federal civil rights laws by requiring employers to grant employees greater accommodation for religious observances, such as taking time off for religious holidays and wearing religious garb.

However, the community is more divided on the contentious issue of vouchers, which provides federal funds for students to attend private or parochial schools. Many said they believe Gregg will push for some type of voucher program. Gregg’s position was strengthened by a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that deemed school vouchers constitutional.

Leaders of many Jewish groups that oppose vouchers say they understand their position is at odds with Gregg’s and they will need to work to try and prevent the legislation from being passed in the full committee.

But Orthodox officials support

Gregg’s stance.

David Zweibel, executive vice president for government and public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, said the Orthodox community would work with Gregg to expand the federal special education law to broaden the use of vouchers for special education children. Gregg supports the use of vouchers for private schools if the public school is not suitable for them.

On judiciary issues, Jewish leaders are gearing up for a flood of new judicial appointments that are expected now that Hatch is chair. He is expected to lead the charge toward swift approval of new conservative judges.

The major judiciary policy debate is expected to revolve around the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, which stalled in the Senate last year and would provide hate crime protections that Jewish groups have been seeking.

Hatch, a Mormon senator wears a mezuzah around his neck for good luck, has "made impassioned speeches" about the need for hate crimes laws and does not join other conservative Republicans in opposing provisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation, said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.

But Hatch is a vocal opponent of the bill on the grounds that it takes away states rights and because he fears that rapes and other attacks against women would all be classified as hate crimes, Lieberman said.

Hatch is also a vocal opponent of abortion, and there may be movement to restrict a woman’s access to abortion, through bills targeting late-term abortions or seeking parental notification.

Jewish activists are less concerned with Stevens, who will be the Senate’s chief appropriator. He is considered a strong supporter of foreign aid to Israel, which falls within the purview of his committee.

Jewish activists say they are further encouraged that the new chairman of the committee’s foreign operations subcommittee is expected to be Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the chief Senate sponsor of a bill that would punish Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders for violating signed agreements with Israel and the United States.

Foreign affairs issues are seen as less dependent on the right chairman, since aid for Israel and support for the pro-Israel agenda is considered bipartisan in the current climate.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Jewish groups have worked with both Lugar and Warner on foreign affairs issues in the past.

Hoenlein said Lugar has not been a strong advocate for the Israeli agenda, but has been supportive and is viewed as a friend.

Warner has recently joined Democratic lawmakers in supporting tougher action on Egypt for its airing of a miniseries deemed to have anti-Semitic elements.