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At a book signing event Monday evening in Washington, D.C., Media Matters for America (MMFA) chief David Brock refused to distance himself from the borderline anti-Semitic language used by one of his senior employees.
We “don’t feed the trolls,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, MMFA’s executive vice president, when asked if Media Matters condones and stands by the use of the term “Israel firster,” a borderline anti-Semitic slur that is regularly employed by MMFA writer M.J. Rosenberg.
“I’m not going to get in a debate about tweets,” Rabin-Havt said, intervening to field a question that was directed at Brock.
And now the controversy is spilling into the Jewish nonprofit world.
Several of the nation’s most preeminent Jewish charities are facing criticism for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to MMFA.
Five Jewish charities in some of the nation’s largest cities have donated nearly $600,000 to Media Matters since 2006, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller. The bulk of the donations came between 2008 and 2010.
A number of the charities in question are tied to the centrist Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization that includes some of the country’s largest Jewish nonprofits, including those in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
News of the donations surprised some Jewish and pro-Israel observers who have condemned Media Matters as a fringe outlier that promotes views contrary to those of the mainstream Jewish community.
Jewish donors “have no idea how this organization has turned into a bigoted group,” Alan Dershowitz, a prominent lawyer and Harvard professor who recently launched his own “personal war” against Rosenberg, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Since his hire in 2009, Rosenberg’s articles have focused on the power of the so-called “Israel lobby,” which he believes has placed a pro-Israel chokehold on the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Rosenberg has also appropriated the “Israel firster” phrase, a term that has its roots in the white supremacist movement.
Many Jews—particularly wealthy philanthropists—are unaware that Media Matters is condoning this type of content, Dershowitz told the Washington Free Beacon.
“Many Jews just couldn’t care less—and then there are … the M.J. Rosenbergs who work to destroy Israel,” Dershowitz said. “I would urge donors to reconsider their gifts.”
Asked if he was surprised to learn that Jews are fiscally backing Media Matters, Dershowitz responded, “Some Jews supported Mussolini and Stalin, so why should we be surprised?”
Of the five Jewish charities that have donated to Media Matters, the most prolific is the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, which has given the group $362,500 since 2007.
CJP president Barry Shrage did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment. However, a statement on the organization’s website states that it is not directly responsible for the donations that were made to Media Matters through its funding arm.
“CJP is now—and has always been—one of Israel’s strongest supporters,” the statement said. “The grant in question was from a Donor Advised Fund, and not from CJP’s communal funding allocations.”
Donor-advised grants are primarily controlled by the funder.
“While owned and ultimately controlled by CJP, [donor advised funds] do not involve communal funds, but rather reflect the interests of those individual donors,” the statement said.
The CJP said that it does “reserve the right to reject a grant to organizations whose missions are in conflict with our own and we have done so on several occasions.”
Dershowitz, who has ties to the CJP, said that while he disagrees with their decisions to fund Media Matters, Jewish donors should be granted the freedom to give to any organization they choose.
Joe Berkofsky, communications director for JFNA, the umbrella group that oversees several of these charities, including the CJP, recommended that the WFB “contact the individual Federations, which in fact are the actual custodians of the funds.”
The other charities that have given to MMFA include: The Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego, the Jewish Communal Fund in New York City, the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
Each of these organizations either declined comment or did not return calls for comment.
A source close to JFNA described the entire funding controversy as “bullshit.”
“People request funds to be allocated from their endowment funds and donor advised funds that are housed at federations,” the source said. “They are not direct allocations by the federations. Federations serve as their philanthropic bank for donations to charities. Unless it's Jews for Jesus or al-Qaeda, the requests are accepted.”
Jewish philanthropists and other experts said that although these charities have been directed by their funders to donate to Media Matters, they have a responsibility to exert oversight and prevent donors from making grants to organizations that subvert Jewish values.
“Media Matters is currently in the business of paying for and spreading anti-Israel and anti-Semitic invective, and these donations—which do not comport with Jewish communal values—are funding that organization and its work," said Josh Block, a Middle East analyst and former top official at a pro-Israel group.
Block added that "these Jewish organizations have a special obligation to stand up and declare that funding groups using rhetoric that the ADL, AJC, and Simon Wiesenthal Center have all identified as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel is simply not appropriate—unless of course they agree with Media Matters and neo-Nazis that it is a good idea to call elected officials and other pro-Israel Americans ‘Israel firsters.’”
“I’m not surprised that federations are funding these far left liberal agendas,” said Richard Allen, founder of JCC Watch, an organization that tracks New-York based Jewish nonprofits. “I think there’s a group within these federations that is diverting Jewish community money for nefarious political purposes, and it needs to stop.”
Jewish philanthropists associated with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington—which did not donate to Media Matters but has taken heat for its funding of a local theater company that staged a series of plays condemned as anti-Israel—said that the funding dispute reveals a systemic problem.
"Sadly, Federations around the country are largely in the hands of secular liberals who have little sense of what’s actually Jewish, much less what’s pro-Israel,” said Michael Steinberg, a Maryland resident who stopped contributing to the Washington Federation for these reasons.
Louis Offen, another Washington-based philanthropist, added: “I’ve got liberal tendencies, but they don’t go in the direction of support for [those who use the term] ‘Israel firsters’ and M.J. Rosenberg.”