No Ford in Israel's Future?

By Elliot Jager
Thursday, June 16, 2011

With little fanfare, the Ford Foundation has initiated a phased withdrawal from its long, largely behind-the-scenes campaign to influence Israeli politics. News reports have focused mostly on the foundation's 23-year-long patronage of the New Israel Fund (NIF), whose beneficiaries include a number of pressure groups that colluded with the now-discredited Goldstone Commission Report.

But Ford's involvement in Israel's affairs goes well beyond the NIF.  The foundation, today with $10.2 billion in assets, was created in 1936 by Edsel Ford, son of the automobile magnate, Nazi sympathizer, and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford.  Since then, it has disbursed a staggering $16 billion in grants largely devoted to "progressive" causes promoting "social change worldwide." In June 1967, the foundation's head was McGeorge Bundy, former foreign-policy aide to President Lyndon Johnson. On the very day Israel claimed victory in the Six-Day war, Johnson recalled Bundy to the White House to help coax Israel out of the just-liberated territories of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

In hindsight, Bundy's involvement, though failing to produce any tangible results, can be seen as driving the foundation's persistent fixation on the Jewish state thenceforward.  Ford became a benefactor of writers, researchers, and groups devoted to ending Israel's "occupation" as a supposed oppressor state routinely brutalizing its Palestinian Arab victims. By the 1980s, the foundation had helped bankroll a campaign, the West Bank Data Project, to delegitimize Jewish life beyond the Green Line.  

The first declaration of a Palestinian state—by Yasir Arafat, in Tunis, on November 15, 1988—followed a blueprint drafted by a Ford grantee. Ford also supported the grand-sounding Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, essentially a platform allowing its founder, Stephen P. Cohen, to be cited incessantly by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as an "expert" calumniator of Israeli policies.  Similarly, Ian Lustick, the intellectual godfather of efforts to dissociate American Jewish backing for Israel from support for its settlement and security policies, would also go on to work for Ford.

The foundation remained on the periphery of an interlocking directorate of agencies, including the Foundation for Peace in the Middle East, that conducted a withering pressure campaign to force Israel back to the 1949 armistice lines. Another agency, the now-defunct International Center for Peace in the Middle East, provided a front for disaffected Israeli and American Jews including Abba Eban and Rita Hauser to lobby for precipitous U.S. recognition of Arafat's PLO.

There is more. In 2001, Ford became a major funder of the Arab and far-Left groups behind the UN-sponsored and virulently anti-Israel Durban Conference. With a few degrees of separation, it also continued to back the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Jewish state. Whether by supporting innocuous-sounding agencies like One Voice and the Peres Center for Peace, or by bankrolling tendentious opinion surveys on behalf of the so-called Geneva Initiative, Ford has contributed significantly to efforts at undermining the possibility of reaching a negotiated solution. It has also lent moral support to J Street as that organization takes Lustick's crusade to re-define the term "pro-Israel" to ever more grotesque extremes.

Looking back, Ford's directors may well feel vindicated. At the very least, Ford's outlay has helped damage Israel's security, weakened its international standing, and worsened its domestic divisions. More particularly, the fund's heavy investment in stoking a multi-layered campaign to force an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines—irrespective of Palestinian belligerence—does indeed seem to have gained inexorable momentum and, now, the evident backing of the Obama White House.

Will Ford-supported enterprises like the New Israel Fund be able to carry on alone after 2013? That will hinge on where things stand on the day the foundation cuts the money line, and on how successful NIF will be in continuing to obfuscate the activities of its dependent agencies.

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