by Donna Nevel and Elly Bulkin
Imagine a scenario in which the communal fund of a major U.S. religious or cultural organization gave money to virulently anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi groups. Imagine the totally justified outrage that would accompany those revelations. Imagine how Jewish communities would react: with indignation and the demand that the fund immediately stop supporting hate and anti-Semitism. This would absolutely be the right thing to do.
Now imagine what has actually happened: New York’s Jewish Communal Fund (JCF) has been financially supporting hate directed toward Muslims. It has funded the work of some of the most virulent purveyors of Islamophobia in the country. When Jewish mainstream organizations learn about this support for anti-Muslim racism, imagine that they react with the same outrage as if it had been directed toward Jews. Let’s hope that will be the case when they learn the facts.
A report recently released by three progressive Jewish organizations (two of which we work with), documents how the JCF is funding Islamophobia. JCF federal Form 990 filings reveal that, going back to at least 2001, it has funded anti-Muslim hate groups, with six of them receiving a total of $2,082,212 between 2013 and 2017, the last years for which 990 forms are publicly available.
These organizations are key parts of what was described in a Center for American Progress 2011 report—Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America— as “the Islamophobia network in America.” They include the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) whose public face is Pamela Geller, a notorious Muslim-basher who promoted a nationwide anti-Muslim ad campaign that placed vitriolic anti-Muslim ads in public buses and subways; the Clarion Project, which has produced Islamophobic propaganda films and uses inflammatory images to demonize and smear Muslims (along with Palestinians); and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a major purveyor of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, which the Southern Poverty Law Center refers to as “the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement.”
But that’s not all. JCF also funds the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, perhaps best known for claiming immediately after Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that the attack had “a Middle Eastern trait” because it “was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible;” the Middle East Forum, whose Daniel Pipes alleged that President Obama “enforced Islamic law;” and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which the Center for American Progress has described as the go-to source for those in the Islamophobia network who want to “make the case that Islam is inherently violent and promotes extremism.” JCF has also accepted financial support from two funders of the Islamophobia network: the Abstraction Fund and Gotham Charitable Foundation Trust.
The Center for American Progress describes the leaders of the Islamophobia network as “misinformation experts.” They not only provide misinformation to media outlets, but they also have relationships with government officials, whose support lends credibility to these anti-Muslim bigots, allowing them to secure funding from government and private sources.
Anti-Muslim racism has a long, ugly history in the United States, which has accelerated since 9/11 and intensified still further under the current administration’s policies. Islamophobia has become deeply entrenched within U.S. society—on the streets, in government, in institutions, in the media.
JCF has the power and obligation to stop funding anti-Muslim hate groups. Its rules give it the right to reject any and all grant recommendations, with includes individuals with donor-advised funds who designate a specific organization for funding. According to JCF’s handbook, “all grant recommendations are nonbinding,” with JCF retaining the power “to decline grant recommendations.” Although JCF gives to many worthwhile projects and grantees, that does not make it acceptable to give a single penny to anti-Muslim hate.
In addition to JCF’s funding of anti-Muslim racism, activists in Chicago exposed in 2017 similar funding of Islamophobia by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago through its donor-advised funds. Its funding between 2011 and 2014 included the Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism, recipients of nearly $650,000 from JUF. In the 2013-2017 fiscal years, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (the local Jewish federation) also funded anti-Muslim hate, including giving more than $360,000 to three of the anti-Muslim hate groups highlighted in the JCF report.
More recent research on the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, which is “housed and staffed” by the Federation, documents substantial financial support for anti-Muslim hate going back to 2003. Nearly $2 million in the 2013-2017 fiscal years went from the Federation and Diller to the six groups that are the focus of the New York City report, as well as substantial funding to other anti-Muslim groups. It was heartening to learn that the Diller Family Foundation agreed to stop funding the blacklist website Canary Mission, which targets pro-Palestine activists, just hours after a report about its $100,000 donation appeared in the Jewish press. At this moment, however, there has been no public sign that it is ending its support of anti-Muslim racism.
White supremacists, including those with the power of the state behind them, feel emboldened these days to act upon their violent and aggressive combination of racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, transphobia, homophobia, and more. It’s critical to be principled in the commitment to challenge all forms of injustice—in words, actions, and the insistence that community institutions be accountable. This means that the JCF and others need to cut off all funding to anti-Muslim hate groups, now and in the future.
Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, and Elly Bulkin, a writer, are co-founders of Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism (JAAMR).