Founded in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund styles itself as a “private, family foundation helping to advance social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.” With these goals in mind, RBF maintains a “peacebuilding program” that disburses grants to nongovernmental organizations involved in “promoting nonviolent responses to conflict.” Increasingly in recent years, NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict have benefitted from RBF’s largesse.
However, RBF’s funding choices do not appear to be in keeping with these values, dragging this American foundation into the ugliest elements of anti-Israel activity in the United States.
One such recipient of funding is the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, which received a $140,000 “peacebuilding” grant in June. This NGO’s name is entirely misleading. JVP is a divisive political organization that aims to create a wedge within the American Jewish community over support for Israel, and it champions strategies designed to dismantle the Jewish state, like BDS (boycott, divestments, sanctions) and advocating for a Palestinian “right of return.”
Now, as terrorists wield knives, guns, and cars in their daily attacks on Israeli citizens, fueled by a massive incitement campaign, JVP is mobilizing a political offensive against Israel. Incredibly, JVP has referred to these stabbings and shootings as “Palestinian popular resistance” and shared a statement on its Facebook account that praises “a new generation of Palestinians … rising up en-masse against Israel’s brutal, decades-old regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”
Palestinian leaders and apologists for terror have justified the heinous murders and other violent crimes by falsely claiming that Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, located on the Temple Mount, is under threat. The promotion of this invented narrative features prominently in videos and statements used to incite Palestinians to violence. Concurrently, JVP has claimed that al-Aqsa is threatened by “Israeli settler violence, which is supported by the Israeli police and military,” and shared a statement via Facebook from a BDS website that “in this latest round [of violence], Israel has fanned the flames of Palestinian grassroots resistance by stepping up its attacks against al-Aqsa mosque compound, the Noble Sanctuary, located in the heart of the Israeli occupied Old City of Jerusalem.”
JVP has gone even further in advancing this spurious campaign by retweeting a Twitter message of one of its officials, calling for JVP members and supporters to use the hashtag #SaveAlaqsa on social media. This hashtag has also been used by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization, to encourage murderous attacks on innocent Israelis.
This is not the only example of how RBF grantees that receive funding, supposedly to work toward peace, actually inflame conflict. Several of the organizations funded through the “peacebuilding” program advocate BDS and are involved in forms of political and legal warfare against Israel. A particularly egregious example of an organization that abuses these funds is Al Shabaka–The Middle East Policy Network, recipient of $100,000 in 2015 and a staunch supporter and advocate for BDS, referring to Israel as a “regime of colonialism and apartheid.”
It is unclear how funding organizations that legitimize terrorism and violence, and that engage in one-sided political, legal and economic campaigns against Israel, contribute to RBF’s goal of achieving a “more just, sustainable and peaceful world.” The opposite is true — these NGO statements and activities contribute to increased tensions and hostility, making a peaceful resolution of the conflict more elusive.
RBF bears responsibility for the actions of its grantees, and must implement protocols and policies that restrict its funds from groups involved in these harmful activities. If it chooses to ignore these abuses of its funds, RBF will be complicit in fanning the flames of violent anti-Semitism and prolonging the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Yona Schiffmiller is a researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.