BY ALEC MAGNET - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 8, 2006
Three major New York-based foundations sponsoring an academic conference in Italy that was scheduled to begin Monday are now calling for its postponement after the conference came under criticism as a forum for critics of Israel and after one of the articles circulated in advance of the meeting was found to have been what executives of two of the foundations called "an anti-Semitic paper by a Holocaust denier."
The New York Sun yesterday reported that eight of the 21 participants in the conference organized by the American Association of University Professors supported boycotting Israeli universities. Critics said that would misrepresent the number of those who support academic boycotts and wrongly legitimate their position.
The conference's sponsors yesterday said that one of the articles the American Association of University Professors circulated to those attending the meeting as preparation was printed in a pro-Hitler magazine, the Barnes Review.
The organizations sponsoring the conference, the Ford, Rockefeller, and Nathan Cummings Foundations, issued statements yesterday saying they doubted the conference's viability.
The president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, and the president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Lance Lindlom, issued a joint statement yesterday that said, "While we accept that this offensive paper does not reflect the views of the AAUP, we believe its errant inclusion in the conference materials has undermined the credibility of this conference as a forum for intellectually honest and rigorous exchange." The Ford and Nathan Cummings foundations contributed the money that would fund the conference and a subsequent publication.
Ms. Berresford and Mr. Lindlom called the distribution of "an anti-Semitic paper by a Holocaust denier" an "unacceptable error." They added that the union has admitted its error, withdrawn the paper, and decided to go forward with the meeting. "We disagree with this decision," they said.
A spokeswoman for the Ford Foundation, Marta Tellado, said in a telephone interview that the foundation would not ask for the $70,000 the foundation contributed to be returned. Mr. Lindlom did not return calls to his office, home, and mobile phone.
The Rockefeller Foundation, which was to house the conference free of charge at its historic villa on the banks of Lake Como in Bellagio, Italy, issued its own statement. "The sponsors of the conference and subsequent publications have stated that the credibility of the conference has been undermined, and they disagree with the conference going forward. The Rockefeller Foundation shares these concerns. Accordingly, we will ask AAUP to both delay use of the facility and to work diligently with the original sponsors of the conference to resolve any outstanding issues," The Rockefeller Foundation said.
"The original application for the use of the conference facility from AAUP had the stated goal of an open exchange of ideas and opposing academic boycotts. We now understand that serious questions have been raised over whether the conference can meet that goal," the Rockefeller Foundation statement adds. The general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, Roger Bowen, did not return telephone messages to his office or e-mails requesting comment.
The Barnes Review article, titled "The Jewish Declaration of War on Nazi Germany: The Economic Boycott of 1933," describes what it says was "a little-known economic and political alliance between the Hitler government and the leaders of the Zionist movement who hoped that the tension between the Germans and the Jews would lead to massive emigration to Palestine."
The Barnes Review, a self-described "nationalist magazine," has published speeches by Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hermann Goering, as well as articles purporting to expose the influence of the Free Masons and Knights Templar on America and the world. Its editors were not immediately available for contact yesterday evening.
The associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Caryl Stern, said in a telephone interview that she was not comfortable that the American Association of University Professors would be able "to vet the anti-Semitism at worst, or at best - if there is a best in this - anti-Zionism."
She added: "If we had concerns yesterday about their ability to contain and not have this agenda take over, they were escalated by this."
The high number of supporters of academic boycotts invited to the conference drew criticism from Jewish leaders.
"This sounds like an academic Durban," the Harvard constitutional law professor and supporter of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, said in a telephone interview about the Ford Foundation's funding of the conference. At a 2001 United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa, radical anti-Semitic groups the Fund Foundation funded dominated the agenda. In November of 2003, under pressure from Congress, the press, and American Jewish organizations, Ms. Berresford announced that the Ford 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.
"The irony, of course, is that as Israel moves closer to peace - as all three major candidates advocate a two-state solution - and as the Palestinians move further away from peace with the overwhelming election of Hamas, the movement for boycott only increases," Mr. Dershowitz told the Sun. "So Israelis never get rewarded for moving towards peace, and Palestinians never get punished for moving away from peace - certainly not in the academic community."
Mr. Dershowitz said he was surprised that he and other prominent opponents of academic boycotts had not been invited to the conference.
A spokesman for the Israeli consulate in New York, David Saranga, told the Sun in an e-mail message, "Israel supports open dialogue on all issues. However, we find it surprising that scholars who support academic boycotts are participating in a conference on academic freedom."