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A Rodent in the Mikvah
Rabbi Avi Shafran

A Rodent in the Mikvah

Rabbi Avi Shafran

In the wake of an investigation that revealed virulent anti-Semitism in groups it had funded for years, the Ford Foundation has expressed its regret and vowed to establish guidelines to prevent its funds from being similarly used in the future.

Unwittingly, though, the charity has set the stage for precisely more of the same, by providing $20 million dollars to the New Israel Fund.

In October, Ford Foundation officials announced that the Washington-based left-wing NIF will be empowered to choose the recipients of all Ford's funding in Israel. Ford executives pledged to direct $1 million into a New Israel Fund endowment fund, with another $19 million earmarked for expenditure over five years - with interest accruing to the NIF.

The investigation into the activities of Ford Foundation grantees, by award-winning author Edwin Black for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, turned up blatant incitement of hatred against Jews and Israel in a number of its beneficiary groups, like the "Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment," which played a major role in the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic agitation in Durban in 2001.

The New Israel Fund, however, has itself long promoted a radical pro-Palestinian agenda, and has repeatedly sought to vilify Orthodox Jews - all under the guise of "human rights," "social change" and "justice." Daniel Doron, the president of an Israeli think tank, has charged that the NIF employed "vague generalities, half-truths and obfuscation to hide its [pro-Palestinian] political agenda."

Among NIF-funded groups is one called "Adalah," which sought to defend accused terrorist Marwan Barghouti after he violated Prison Authority rules by granting a media interview in which he reasserted his support for violent Palestinian "resistance" to Israeli "occupation."

Another entity that has been funded by the NIF is the "Israel-Palestine Friendship Center," which has relentlessly advocated the Palestinian "right of return" - a position that even dovish Israelis recognize would mean the end of Israel. One speaker at the Center told his listeners that "Jews exist only to drip the blood of Palestinian children into their matzas."

Yet another NIF beneficiary has been "Bat Shalom," a group that campaigned for the release of a female leader of a terrorist cell that murdered an Israeli civilian. The terrorist was lauded by Yasser Arafat as the model Palestinian woman, and refused to express any regret for the murder.

An ad in The New York Times asking readers to lobby their congressmen to protest a Knesset bill featured a smiling wounded Palestinian child with a Palestinian flag as backdrop - and, at the bottom, the words "Tax exempt-contributions… may be made through the New Israel Fund."

The NIF's essence might best be divined by the testimony of a letter-writer to the Jerusalem Post, who described how she was a "devout Zionist" until making the "haj" to Israel on a 1989 NIF study tour and had her eyes opened to the "racist contempt of the Israel government… toward Palestinians" and to how Zionism's founders wished to "cleanse [the area] of Palestinians."

The NIF has also solicited funds from American Jews to fight "the ultra-Orthodox minority" in Israel, which it characterizes as a "powerful force" with a "repugnant face" that seeks to establish a "theocratic state" in Israel. While Israel's democratically elected Orthodox political parties seek to preserve the existent standards of Jewish tradition in the Jewish State - part of the "religious status quo" in place since Israel's inception - the NIF's coloring of those parties and their constituents as aspiring ayatollahs is pure bigotry, and odiously parallels the group's portrayal of the Israeli government as a violator of human rights and worse.

Asked if the NIF would be a conduit for previous Ford Foundation's recipients that have engaged in anti-Israel activity, NIF board president Peter Edelman said no. He added that the $20 million Ford grant "comes to us in a chunk; they can't take it back." Mr. Edelman conceded that "there is a Ford Foundation representative on the advisory group," but insists that it "has no legal power. They can't make a grant, only our board can."

Some of us, though, are less than reassured. But it's not interference by the Ford Foundation that concerns us. Ford has, after all, publicly admitted its errors.

What is distressing instead is the New Israel Fund itself - and the tragic mistake the Ford Foundation has made by entrusting its grant-funding decision-making for Israel, and a huge sum of money, to an organization that knowingly and intentionally vilifies and undermines both Israel and Judaism.

A mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, effects a spiritual cleansing from the ritual impurity known as tum'ah. One way of bringing tum'ah upon oneself and thereby requiring immersion in a mikvah is physical contact with a dead rodent of certain species. The Talmud explains that before the purification can take place, the contact with the source of the impurity must end. The "purification," in other words, is a pointless process, if one "immerses with a rodent in his hand."

One can't expect Ford Foundation officials to be familiar with that Talmudic observation. But they might, all the same, still be led to realize that regretting past empowerment of hatred rings remarkably hollow if it comes hand in hand with empowering hatred anew.


[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

posted to 12-16-03

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