Updated April 11, 2013 with responses from some of MIFTAH’s funders
On March 27, 2013 MIFTAH, a Palestinian non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1998 by Hanan Ashrawi (Chair of MIFTAH’s Board of Directors), published an article by Nawaf al-Zaru that repeated the antisemitic blood libel.1 He wrote, “Does Obama in fact know the relationship, for example, between ‘Passover’ and ‘Christian blood’… ?! Or ‘Passover’ and ‘Jewish blood rituals…?! Much of the historical stories and tales about Jewish blood rituals in Europe are based on real rituals and are not false as they claim; the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover …” (translated from the original Arabic by NGO Monitor).
MIFTAH’s funders enable the NGO’s activities and give the organization significant impact, and thus bear considerable responsibility. Funders in 2011 (the latest available report) include the EU (via the Anna Lindh Foundation), NGO Development Center (joint funding from Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands), Italy, Austria, Heinrich Boell Stiftung (German government funding), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (German government funding), Ireland, Norway, and indirect U.S. government funding via National Endowment for Democracy and International Republican Institute.
Between 2007 and 2012, the National Endowment for Democracy (U.S.) provided $178,740 to MIFTAH, according to the NGO’s financial reports and documents provided to NGO Monitor by NED (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012).
This case is not unique – other Palestinian NGOs funded by European governments have published overtly antisemitic material. For example, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency published an article denying the Holocaust (January 31, 2013). The article was taken down only after public exposure and scrutiny. The Ma’an News Agency is an online news project of Ma’an Network, which receives funding from the EU, the Netherlands, Denmark, U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative, UK, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Reception, Removal, Belated Apology
The MIFTAH article was highlighted by blogger Elder of Ziyon, and received considerable attention on blogs, Twitter, and other online platforms.
In response to Elder of Ziyon, MIFTAH removed the piece on March 28. Then, on March 30, the NGO issued a statement attacking Elder of Ziyon for “smearing” them and explaining that the article’s removal was “to avoid further misunderstanding.” MIFTAH described Al Zaru’s article as having “briefly addressed” the blood libel. (In fact, up to half the article focused on the blood libel.)
On March 31, the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the article, expressing dismay that MIFTAH had yet to apologize.
On April 1, five days after the publication of the Al Zaru article, MIFTAH issued an apology, stating that the article was “accidentally and incorrectly published by a junior staff member” and “We express our sincerest regret for offense caused by the oversight that resulted in said publication.”
Background on MIFTAH
Official Mission Statement: “MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause.” The first of MIFTAH’s Strategic Objectives is “to disseminate the Palestinian narrative and discourse globally to both official and popular bodies and decision-makers.”
MIFTAH’s website also includes the glorification of terrorism in an article by Johorah Baker titled “Palestinian Women and the Intifada” (July 5, 2006). Under the sub-heading “Fighting Back,” Baker describes how Palestinian women “also decided to join the ranks of the resistance movement.” The article cites suicide bomber Wafa Idrees as “the beginning of a string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.” Idrees detonated herself on January 27, 2002, killing 81 year-old Pinhas Takatli and wounding another 150 Israeli civilians. The article also highlights Hanadi Jaradat who murdered 21 people, including four children, when she exploded herself on October 4, 2003 in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa.
The NGO is also active in promoting “lawfare” – the exploitation of international legal frameworks to prosecute Israelis, asserting that “it is time that Israel is held accountable in international courts for the crimes it commits against Palestinians.”
MIFTAH publishes articles that advocate for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel, alleging that “the BDS campaign calls for justice first, framing the conflict in terms of colonization, oppression and denial of the basic human rights of the Palestinian people.”
NED (correspondence with NGO Monitor): “The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been working for many years through its grants program to strengthen Palestinian civil society. Because the development of future leaders is particularly critical to that effort, NED has provided funding for the young leaders program of the organization MIFTAH for the past several years. MIFTAH’s most recent funding application was not renewed at our recent board of directors meeting in light of additional demands for NED resources in a rapidly changing MENA region. MIFTAH’s web site, the source of recent controversy, has never been supported by NED, whose grants program is not involved with Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.”
Oxfam (on Elder of Ziyon blog): “Thank you for making us aware that a blog post published on the website of one of our partners, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), included reprehensible anti-Semitic statements. MIFTAH has removed the offensive blog post and issued a public apology on its website. MIFTAH has assured Oxfam that the individual behind the post has been reprimanded. Oxfam Is clearly on record as opposing the use of language or acting in ways which promote hate or discrimination. Oxfam has worked with MIFTAH since 2010. Currently, MIFTAH and three other partners are implementing Oxfam’s regional project Supporting Women’s Transformative Leadership in Changing Times. The project targets marginalized women and men to support women’s rights and gender justice with the goal of increased empowerment, self-confidence, and leadership roles for women in public and private spheres.”
UNESCO (in Washington Free Beacon): “UNESCO condemns all forms of hate literature, including anti-Semitic articles such as the one Miftah published and later apologized for. UNESCO does not fund Miftah nor does it have any formal relations with it. UNESCO did support several gender-focused workshops and activities organized by Miftah in the past but its collaboration with the organization ended in 2011. It just paid for specific contracts concerning specific projects.”
- The blood libel is an antisemitic accusation that became widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages. Its theme is “the Jews” ritually murder Christian children and use their blood to bake the Passover matzah (unleavened bread). These accusations often incited massacres of Jews, were used in Nazi propaganda, and now appear in Arab and Muslim media.