The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has now provided over $1 million to organizations working to advance the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. On June 22nd, RBF announced it had awarded another two-year, $140,000 grant to Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that functions as the Jewish American wing of the BDS movement. Funding for pro-BDS groups has been a repeated source of criticism for RBF and its president, Stephen Heintz—as Tablet reported this past May, multiple Jewish organizations have privately voiced their concerns to Heintz and his staff about RBF’s Israel-Palestine-related grants, while former US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns resigned from the Fund’s board over its decision to underwrite BDS groups in early 2016.
Heintz, and RBF, appear inured to any criticism. In an internal email sent the day the Tablet story was published, Heintz implied that funding BDS was consistent with the values and vision of David Rockefeller, the former Chase Bank chairman and RBF founder who died this past March at the age of 101. “We are conscientious custodians of David’s legacy and we think he would be proud of our work dedicated to peace and justice in the region,” Heintz wrote on May 25th. The new JVP grant was unveiled less than a month later.
JVP has gained in size and visibility since RBF’s first grant to the organization in 2015, despite or possibly because of its oftentimes confrontational tactics. Rasmea Odeh, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant who will soon be deported from the US for omitting a 1970 terrorism conviction in Israel from multiple US immigration applications, spoke at JVP’s annual members meeting this past March. During the Dyke March controversy this past June, JVP’s Chicago branch sided with the event’s organizers, who excluded a number of participants carrying flags with rainbow-patterned stars of David on them. Their statement asked “that everyone reflect on…how Israel has appropriated Jewish identity and symbols, and how that impacts our movement spaces.” On June 4th, just a couple of weeks before RBF announced its grant, JVP activists infiltrated a group of LGBT marchers at the annual Celebrate Israel parade in New York, briefly hijacking their sound system. Shortly before its parade stunt, JVP released a video entitled “Deadly Exchange” that drew tendentious links between police brutality in the US and exchange programs between American and Israeli law enforcement. The video was short on factual detail, instead drawing foggy connections between the Jewish state and social ills far beyond the country’s borders.
Although Heintz has repeatedly contended that the Fund does not support the totality of the activity that it underwrites, re-upping a grant implies a broad degree of approval for a given group’s activities. “You don’t have to actually support particular actions to in effect endorse them,” Leslie Lenkowsky, professor emeritus of public affairs and philanthropy at the University of Indiana and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, told Tablet this past May. “Money is fungible … the real test is: Would you continue to fund an organization that engages in activities that you as an organization do not feel are worth supporting or believe are not worthwhile?”
Like its predecessor, the June 22nd grant is for “general support,” and isn’t earmarked for any specific project. Despite Heintz’s argument that his fund’s values and objectives shouldn’t be conflated with those of its grantees, it’s hard to believe that a leading philanthropy like RBF would award repeated, open-ended funding rounds to an organization if the Fund didn’t actively believe in that group’s work.
JVP’s leadership are aware of why RBF’s support is so significant.“It’s not just RBF. The R stands for Rockefeller,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP’s executive director, told Tablet this past May. “I think that has particular resonance for people both in the philanthropic world and more broadly.”. The extra cash is already coming in handy. On July 24th, JVP posted two new job openings—the group is currently seeking to add both a southern and midwestern regional organizer.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.