Support for Islamophobic groups from Jewish Communal Fund slurs ‘Jewish community as a whole’

As the charity season ramps up, so does a vigorous protest by a coalition of progressive Jewish groups in New York of the Jewish Communal Fund, because the JCF has funneled more than $2.5 million over the last six years to Islamophobic organizations.

The JCF, which is affiliated with the Jewish Federations, has so far ignored the protesters’ demand for a meeting with the fund’s ceo. “We demonstrate. Silence. We send in a petition with 5000 signatures. Silence. We write to them. Silence,” says Jane Hirschmann, a leader of the protest. “They seem to be hunkering down.”

But the pressure is on. The coalition to Defund Islamophobia held a demonstration outside the JCF headquarters two weeks ago marked by mainstream Jewish representation, not to mention 75 New Yorkers gathered in the cold. Next Monday, December 9, the coalition will lead a lunchtime picket of the JCF offices (12:30-1:30, 575 Madison Ave. at 56th Street). It will picket again in January, demanding a meeting with the fund’s leadership, to learn why the fund has apparently refused to stop serving as a conduit for Islamophobic groups.

The protest appears to have put real pressure on the Jewish Communal Fund, certainly embarrassing the charity operation. The Defund Islamophobia campaign coalition includes Jewish Voice for Peace, NY, Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism, and Jews Say No, and the JCF protest itself was endorsed by a very mainstream NY progressive group, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

One speaker at the Nov. 14 protest carries establishment clout: Victor Kovner is a founder of the liberal Zionist organization J Street, and was counsel for the Metropolitan Transit Authority when the agency got Pamela Geller’s Islamophobic ads out of subways and buses.

Kovner said the Communal Fund “is slurring, smearing the Jewish community as a whole to associate with these vicious, fascist, racist groups. And we must, as Jews, speak up against what they are doing.”

Victor Kovner speaks at Jewish Communal Fund protest, November 14, 2019. New York. Photo by Jake Ratner.

Another strong speech came from the journalist Karen Ranucci, who said that her family has pulled its money from JCF because it couldn’t get a meeting with execs to explain why the JCF funds Islamophobic organizations. “I encourage anyone who might have a penny in there or know anybody who has any money, spread the word, and take it out, because obviously that’s the only thing that will get their attention,” she said.

Jewish Communal Fund protest, November 14, 2019. New York. Karen Ranucci with sign. Photo by Jake Ratner.

The JCF manages “donor-advised funds”. The organization passes money to causes chosen by donors and gets the donors a tax write-off, and preserves their anonymity. Here is the report from a year ago documenting the Fund’s gifts to six anti-Muslim groups in 2013-17, to the tune of $2 million– updated this year to add another $554,216 in 2018. Those groups are:

–Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller has said that Hitler was inspired by Islam and called Islam “an extreme ideology, the most radical and extreme
ideology on the face of the earth.”

–The Clarion Project. Maker of anti-Muslim propaganda films such as “The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Agenda for America.”

–The David Horowitz Freedom Center. Horowitz has likened Black Lives Matter to the KKK and said that mainstream Muslim groups are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Horowitz “the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement.”

–Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, which “frames Islam as an inherently violent and antagonistic religion,” per the Center for American Progress.

–Middle East Forum, led by Daniel Pipes, who has argued that Barack Obama is a Muslim and Muslims seek to impose Islamic law in the U.S. Pipes has also suggested that Japanese internment was a model for how to deal with Muslims.

–MEMRI – the Middle East Media Research Institute. MEMRI serves as a source for journalists on Arab media and seeks to portray Islam in violent, terroristic terms.

Sadly, support for these bigoted groups is a pattern throughout the Jewish community nationally, in Chicago, in San Francisco, in Boston. As Donna Nevel and Elly Bulkin reported:

Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago through its donor-advised funds [made contributions] between 2011 and 2014 [to] the Middle East Forum and Investigative Project on Terrorism, recipients of nearly $650,000… 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 [NY] 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.

Here are extended excerpts of two speeches outside the JCF last month.

Ranucci told the crowd that “Our family was using the JCF to give charitable contributions to organizations,” and then stopped when it learned of the pattern of supporting bigotry.

When we found out– we joined a Jewish organization feeling that we would be protected, that they would care about the values that Judaism stands for the JCF was funding Islamophobia, we were horrified and immediately contacted the JCF and said hey, what’s going on around here? They said Well we just have to do what their donors tell them to do, which, as has been pointed out, is not true. And so we asked for a meeting and they never got back to me. I went to a conference that they sponsored with a number of other Jewish organizations and spent the entire day talking with the people in attendance and almost everyone there was shocked and didn’t want any part of this. When I asked to meet with the JCF people who were there, Sue Dyckman in particular, they hid and they would not meet with me. So I am proud to say I have taken my charitable money out of JCF and I encourage anyone who might have a penny in there or know anybody who has any money, spread the word, and take it out, because obviously that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”

Victor Kovner related his success in federal court in defending the MTA advertising policy that eliminated anti-Muslim ads from subways and buses.

I have been practicing law for several decades. I cannot recall anything as satisfying as beating Pamela Geller.

What the Jewish Communal Fund is doing is outrageous. They will say ‘We aren’t making the choice. These are our donors.’ There is no reason, as was pointed out earlier, that they have to transfer these funds to obvious hate groups. They can simply give it back to their donors. It is shocking that they continue to behave in this manner. All they are doing is slurring, smearing the Jewish community as a whole to associate with these vicious, fascist, racist groups. And we must, as Jews, speak up against what they are doing. It is totally senseless and counterproductive. Or as I say in another context, their argument is bullshit.”

Organizers of the Defund Islamophobia campaign say they won’t stop protesting till the JCF stops funding these groups. I wrote to the JCF seeking a response and got none. We will keep you posted.

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