The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) commands $842 million in assets. The Rockefeller name, coupled with RBF’s financial clout, make this institution a pillar of American philanthropy.
Thus, it’s disappointing, though perhaps not altogether surprising, to learn that RBF is a substantial contributor to the boycott Israel movement. According to this superb article by Armin Rosen in Tablet, since 2013, RBF has contributed at least $880,000 to groups working to advance a boycott Israel. Rosen says that RBF’s support for pro-boycott groups is virtually unique among major American institutional funders.
But for how long, I wonder. As one pro-boycott beneficiary gushed:
It’s not just RBF. The R stands for Rockefeller. I think that has particular resonance for people both in the philanthropic world and more broadly.
I think she’s right, at least with regard to the philanthropic world.
RBF’s support for Israel boycott groups is extensive. According to Rosen:
The organizations that RBF currently funds engage in a broad spectrum of pro-boycott activity. RBF made a $140,000 grant to Jewish Voice for Peace, the primary Jewish communal validator for boycott efforts in the United States. JVP’s national members meeting this past April featured a speech from Rasmea Odeh, a former Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant who recently pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to omitting all mention of a 1970 terrorism conviction in Israel from a series of immigration applications.
In 2015, RBF awarded a $50,000 grant to the American Friends Service Committee, which promotes boycott campaigns on college campuses and in various American Christian communities. In 2015, JVP and AFSC co-sponsored an International Conference on the Return of Palestinian Refugees organized by Zochrot, a Tel Aviv-based pro-boycott group that itself received two $20,000 grants for general support from RBF, in 2015 and 2017. In 2012, Zochrot published a document “envisioning a post-Zionist Palestine”; in 2014, the group’s founder, Eitan Bronstein, appeared in a YouTube video filmed at Yad Vashem in which an actress portraying “The Holocaust” recites a monologue in which she asks “who have you learned from to collect people according to their ethnic background and throw them into concentration camps?”
RBF claims not to endorse BDS. Yet:
[I]t has. . .provided multiple open-ended grants to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which is essentially the umbrella organization of the American BDS movement and a group whose Washington office provides boycott activists with an advocacy and policy presence in the nation’s capital. The Fund’s 2015 and 2017 grants to the group are for “general support,” and are not attached to any specific program. The U.S. Campaign lists comprehensive BDS among the coalition’s “common principles.”
Along with RBF grantees Palestine Legal, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee, the U.S. Campaign coordinates a national Campus BDS Support Team to assist in boycott efforts at U.S. colleges and universities. The coalition’s website also lists the Washington, D.C.-based Council for the National Interest as a member. That organization’s president is Alison Weir, who has repeatedly appeared on a white supremacist radio show and promoted a conspiracy theory about the Israeli government harvesting the organs of Palestinians for profit.
Thus, RBF “endorses” BDS in the most meaningful way it can — by funding it. As Rosen says, “it is impossible to argue that these grants are being made without the advancement of BDS in mind.”
Tellingly, RBF’s funding of BDS outfits was undertaken notwithstanding the objection of Nicholas Burns, the respected U.S. diplomat who has long been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. As a RBF trustee, Burns supported the Fund’s decision to begin making grants related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but opposed funding pro-boycott groups.
During a trustee meeting in 2015, Burns urged RBF to stop funding pro-BDS organizations. He even suggested that the Fund request certain groups return some of their grant money. After three months of discussions, he failed to sway either the board, which included six members of the Rockefeller family, or Heintz.
Burns therefore resigned. He explained: “BDS. While I favor the creation of an independent Palestinian state, I oppose BDS as fundamentally anti-Israeli.”
RBF was also a player in the Iran nuclear deal, according to Rosen. Among other things, it worked to sell President Obama’s Iran policy to a skeptical American public. It also funded Trita Parsi, a shameless pro-Iranian apologist. Rosen’s article has the details.
The article is long, but well worth reading in its entirety. He concludes:
RBF’s engagement with American Jewish communal life has been minimal or non-existent, at least up until a couple of years ago. The Fund has now thrown its substantial resources behind a sweeping interpretation of what Israel and the American Jewish community really need. R
BF’s approach to philanthropy is based on the conviction that a private foundation should take the kinds of risks that government and the private sector cannot. That expansive sense of freedom and mission has now led RBF to stake out a clear—and, to many, unpalatable—position on some of the most wrenching dilemmas in Jewish life.
To put it mildly.