October 23, 2019; Forward
Donor-advised funds in Jewish federations made $941 million in grants in 2014, according to Jack Wertheimer, author of Giving Jewish: How Big Funders Have Transformed American Jewish Philanthropy. NPQ has covered a number of instances where Jewish federations have refused to process donations from donor-advised funds to groups critical of Israel. Now, reports Aiden Pink of Forward, the New Israel Fund (NIF) is stepping up to provide an alternative in its Progressive Jewish Fund, to be launched today.
Refusing to make donations on behalf of a donor is within the rights of a DAF sponsor, but it seldom occurs except for a legal reason, so the refusal to facilitate a donation to a legitimate group is unusual and noteworthy.
“People engaged in American Jewish life are being told, ‘The tent doesn’t include the things that you want to do,’” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch.
“There are literally tens of thousands of folks out there looking for the right [philanthropic] home for themselves,” said Jen Spitzer, New Israel Fund vice president. “For some, it’s going to be Fidelity or a commercial operation. For some, it’s going to be Federation, which is wonderful. But there hasn’t yet been a national progressive Jewish place to house your philanthropic giving to Israel and America.” Quoting Pink:
Sokatch said the Forward’s reporting on Canary Mission, the shadowy right-wing Israeli blacklist group that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from federation donor-advised funds, was a wake-up call for many on the Jewish left.
“When engaged Jews read that institutions knowingly or unknowingly fund McCarthyite blacklisters who aim to chill debate, intimidate college students and label anyone who doesn’t agree with their radical right-wing agenda as community traitors, those are moments that we’ll look back on as trigger moments for all kinds of new things coming online,” he said.
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IfNotNow seems to be a particular target:
Roy Eidelson, a psychologist in Philadelphia, told the Forward that this very thing happened to him when he tried to donate to IfNotNow, a group that criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. IfNotNow also protests other Jewish organizations it sees as complicit in that treatment.
The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia told him earlier this year that they didn’t approve of “controversial” donations, Eidelson told the Forward. A spokesperson for the federation said the CEO didn’t recall using the word “controversial” but confirmed that they rejected the donation because they thought it was contrary to the interests of the Jewish community.
For example, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles thwarted an attempted donation to IfNotNow in 2016, as did the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle earlier this year. And three years before the Philadelphia federation denied Eidelson’s IfNotNow donation, it also blocked a contribution to Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
NIF makes its point of view explicit in guidelines that state it won’t facilitate donations to organizations that support settlements or groups on the left that support the BDS movement. These kinds of clear political restrictions appear to be a recent development within the DAF world.—Ruth McCambridge