On April 13, J Street U students from the Bay Area held a public forum with Danny Grossman, the CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. We focused on our communal and political responsibility here at home and also in Israel, and specifically the Federation’s guidelines regarding who can receive its funding.
J Street U students have always admired the Federation for the important work it does. Some of us have personally benefited from its programs, which emphasize engagement within the Jewish community and provide support for vulnerable populations. Much of the Federation’s work within Israel is equally essential, given its extensive and impressive efforts to build a more equitable Israeli society.
As students who advocate on campuses and within our own communities for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and thus against Israel’s undemocratic occupation of the West Bank, we strive to bring conversations to our community about the two-state solution, and to engage prominent Jewish communal leaders in those conversations. We know how important the Federation is in our community, and we see it as a partner.
It is with this in mind that we publicly discussed the Federation’s funding guidelines with Mr. Grossman. The guidelines state clearly that BDS-supporting organizations aren’t eligible for funding because they work to undermine Israel. And in at least one instance, Donor Advised Fund requests to Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee have been denied because those groups support boycott, divestment and sanctions. However, organizations from the political right that similarly undermine Israel’s Jewish and democratic future, or support bigotry, seem to be excluded from this framework.
As part of a campaign pursuing transparency within Jewish Federations across the United States, we discovered that the S.F.-based Federation allows funding, through Donor Advised Funds (DAF) and/or Supporting Foundation Grants (SFG), to several organizations that support extremism and bigotry in the United States and Israel. Unlike the donations to JVP and AFSC, these organizations still receive funding.
To be clear, we don’t think that the Federation necessarily believes that these organizations are good, or that we should support them. In fact, from our many conversations with Federation officials, we know them to be reasonable moderates who also want to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and have sensible policies take hold in the U.S. They have routinely expressed a desire to “hold the center” of our Jewish community, which is an aim we respect. We know that the Federation’s core funds follow this principle. Yet, according to the Federation website as of April 19, donors are currently able to direct their funds — through DAFs and SFGs — toward a number of troubling actors. While the current funding guidelines theoretically prohibit the funding of such organizations, they continue to receive this type of funding. And that speaks loudly.
Some of these organizations, including the Center for Security Policy, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Middle East Forum, are well known for blatant Islamophobia. In one case, Daniel Pipes, the founder of the Middle East Forum, described Muslim immigrants as “brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.” In addition, the Anti-Defamation League has profiled Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, as a key proponent of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Most recently, conspiracy theories perpetuated by these organizations and their founders have dangerously infiltrated the highest levels of our government. Donald Trump has used false statistics from the Center for Security Policy to back his anti-Muslim policies. Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions have all been affiliated with the organization in some way. Our community must join together in rejecting organizations like these, which threaten the safety of our Muslim neighbors, and the integrity of our democracy.
Additional organizations, like the One Israel Fund and Friends of Ir David, are active supporters of political extremism and settlement expansion in the West Bank. The One Israel Fund serves as a funding funnel for a host of other settler organizations, including extremist organizations like Im Tirzu and Regavim. Friends of Ir David gathers financial support for the City of David, whose profits fund Elad, an organization whose work to “Judaize” East Jerusalem has displaced numerous Palestinians from their homes. These efforts actively create barriers to a two-state solution by aiming to prevent the creation of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a contiguous future state of Palestine. Just as we are obligated to demand an end to hatred and extremism in the United States, we must also speak out against such dynamics in Israel and the West Bank.
In our panel, we spoke frankly with Mr. Grossman about these obligations. In response, the Federation has committed to assessing its funding guidelines, with our recommendations in mind. The Federation also committed to considering J Street U students as key stakeholders in a review process. In doing so, Mr. Grossman demonstrated leadership that ought to be celebrated. However, substantive changes must follow this conversation.
In examining the funding guidelines, the Federation has a larger choice to make: Will it risk abetting these troubling organizations with an implicit stamp of approval? Or will it choose to firmly speak out against hatred and bigotry, and truly hold the center of our community, by changing its policies?
We know that as leaders within our community, we all need to continue to stand firm against political extremism and hatred. We will continue to lead, and we are excited to do so in continuing collaboration with the Federation.