by Donna Nevel
While a commitment to standing with the Muslim community against Islamophobia is as important as ever, words are meaningless if not backed up in real ways that reflect this commitment. That means definitively opposing all forms of Islamophobia.
Yesterday, Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago (JVP-Chicago) and the Network Against Islamophobia (NAI), a project of national JVP, released a report, “Defund Islamophobia: How the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago Supports Anti-Muslim Hate Groups.” As the report makes clear, “Despite its stated commitment to ‘stand together to say “no” to all forms of hate,’” the Jewish United Fund (JUF), during the years 2011-2014, has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-Muslim hate groups through its donor-advised funds.
JUF policies make clear they have discretion over distributing donor-funds. As described in the report, “According to JUF policy, donor-advised funds are strictly advisory, meaning that while individual donors can recommend organizations they wish to support, a JUF standing committee retains full discretion over the ultimate allocation of funds.” This committee also has the power to “establish additional criteria for the evaluation of Outside Investment Advisors.”
The Defund Islamophobia report documents that, between 2011-2014, the JUF “gave $648,750 to the Middle East Forum, founded by Daniel Pipes in 1990. Pipes is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an influential propagandist “at the center of what is a large and evolving network of Islam-bashing activists.” The report also documents that “In 2012, JUF gave $26,000 to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which Steven Emerson founded in 1995. Like Pipes, Emerson is identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-Muslim extremist . . . frequently cited in public discourse.”
In addition to the donor advised funds, the report states that JUF also “accepted $5.1 million in 2013 from the Donors Capital Fund, a major contributor to what the Center for American Progress calls the Islamophobia Network in America.”
Mark Tseng-Putterman, writer, activist, and member of the Network Against Islamophobia, who completed the original research that led to the campaign, spoke about what compelled him to do this investigation: “I began following the money in an attempt to understand the complicity of the Jewish Federations and other major Jewish institutions in the normalization of the Trump administration and its hateful agenda. This report explains that complicity: Islamophobia is apparently acceptable to institutions like the JUF so long as it entrenches American support for the Israeli occupation. It is ludicrous for the JUF to position itself as a leader in interfaith solidarity while it stokes the flames of Islamophobia through its donor-advised funds.” He added about JUF’s donor-advised funds: “If there ever was a reason for the JUF to invoke its discretion over donor-advised funds, it would be to stop the funding of hate groups like the Middle East Forum.”
As the current Administration further intensifies the targeting and profiling of Muslims and those assumed to be Muslim, as virulent Islamophobes are welcomed to the White House, and as U.S. domestic and foreign policies continue to be deeply anti-Muslim and racist, JVP-Chicago and NAI call on the JUF to:
1. Immediately cut off all funding to anti-Muslim hate groups, through donor-advised funds or other funding streams;
2. Commit to rejecting future contributions from funders that are contributors to anti-Muslim hate groups; and
3. Make a written and public statement addressing JUF funding of anti-Muslim hate groups and affirming JUF’s commitment to the above actions.
According to Lesley Williams, a leader in JVP Chicago and the Network Against Islamophobia, “…The real battle is between those who are in solidarity with marginalized people, and those who are not; those who truly support human rights and those who only pay lip service unless it supports their narrow self-interest.” She added, “As a black Jewish woman, I am outraged that JUF is providing a mainstream platform for racism and a cover of respectability for bigotry.”