BY ALEC MAGNET - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 7, 2006
Less than three years after reports of Ford Foundation funding of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity prompted an international uproar, the Manhattan based philanthropic giant is at it again, paying for at least eight scholars who favored a boycott of Israeli academics to attend a conference scheduled for Monday at a villa on the shore of Lake Como in Italy.
In November of 2003, the president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, announced that the foundation "deeply" regretted some of its funding of anti-Israel groups. She announced new policies requiring grantees not to engage in bigotry or promote violence or terrorism. At the time, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who had called the Ford Foundation's actions "extremely disturbing," said he had "been utterly clear with the leadership of the Ford Foundation that they must follow through" on its new policies.
Senator Santorum, a Republican of Pennsylvania who helped press the Ford Foundation in 2003, said yesterday that he found it "distressing" to learn that the Ford Foundation is "funding a conference in which more than a third of the participants support boycotting Israeli universities."
The Rockefeller Foundation is providing the site at Bellagio, Italy, where 21 scholars will meet in a historic Lombard villa on the banks of Lake Como for a three-day conference to discuss academic boycotts and their relation to academic freedom. More than a third of these scholars publicly support boycotts of Israeli universities out of opposition to the Jewish state. The Ford Foundation is putting in a total of $70,000 to fund the meeting and to support publishing the conference's proceedings.
"We really have a strong view that academic boycotts pose a threat to academic freedom. We've spoken to the AAUP about this issue and voiced our concern. They're strong opponents of academic boycotts, they understand our concern and they've assured us that they've taken the necessary steps, done the due diligence, and they're going to host a rigorous academic exchange," a spokeswoman for the Ford Foundation, Marta Tellado, said.
Critics are calling on the organizer of the conference, the American Association of the University Professors, to delay and rethink it. Some critics wondered if the Ford Foundation's funding of the conference violated its pledge not to support any grantee who promotes terrorism or bigotry, or calls for the destruction of any state.
"It doesn't make any sense to have a conference which is dominated by people who are basically anti-Israel in their approach and only use the academic boycott as a technique or a vehicle ... for demonizing Israel and pursuing its destruction ... if you're going to have a discussion about academic boycotts and how to preserve academic freedom," a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Gerald Steinberg, told The New York Sun. Mr. Steinberg is the editor of the Web publication NGO Monitor, a watchdog of nongovernmental organizations.
In April 2005, the governing council of Great Britain's faculty union, the Association of University Teachers, voted to boycott two Israeli universities, the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University. After the international outcry that ensued, the union voted to rescind its boycott at an emergency meeting the next month.
The AAUP, the American university faculty union, was one of the first institutions to protest the boycott, and has since drafted a statement condemning academic boycotts categorically.
At least eight participants at next week's conference, however, publicly supported the boycott.
The general secretary of the AAUP, Roger Bowen, said in a telephone interview that the point of conference is to debate the issue of academic boycotts more broadly. After the conference, he said, the association will publish a special issue of its bimonthly magazine, Academe, including its statement in opposition to academic boycotts and written responses from some of the conferees. "What we seek is a sampling of various views," Mr. Bowen said.
A lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London, David Hirsh, who has criticized the conference, told the Sun, "What the AAUP is doing is inviting this whole discourse, this whole way of thinking, into the union and making it seem like a legitimate position." Mr. Hirsh is the editor of the Web publication Engage, founded in response to the British union's boycott.
One scholar scheduled to attend the conference, Yehudith Harel, has publicly said, "I support the idea of boycott in all fields because the boycott is essentially a nonviolent means to resist and protest an impossible situation - a cruel military occupation going on for decades - almost half a century - and it is only getting worse and worse all the time." Ms. Harel could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Ford Foundation, with assets of about $10.6 billion at last report, was established by the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, a famous anti-Semite. The foundation now has no relation to the automaker or to the Ford family.
Correction from February 9, 2006
Yehudith Harel eventually declined an invitation to attend the conference at Lake Como sponsored by the Ford Foundation. An article on page 1 of the February 7 New York Sun was incorrect.