Note: This is an updated version of a post that was published on March 1, 2017.
Earlier this year, Silicon Valley Community Foundation became a target of ongoing attacks by Middle East Forum, a right-wing group that focuses on individuals and organizations that espouse views different from theirs on Israel’s security and its role in the Middle East. Middle East Forum falsely claims that SVCF has provided grant support to extremist organizations. Specifically, Middle East Forum claims that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Relief are extremist organizations with ties to terrorism.
Over the past several years, SVCF has made grants to CAIR of the San Francisco Bay Area, a local nonprofit entity with a separate, independent tax status and governing board from that of other CAIR organizations. We have found CAIR of the San Francisco Bay Area to be a reliable and effective nonprofit partner as part of our immigration grantmaking strategy of the last 10 years. In addition, CAIR California and the CAIR Foundation in Washington, D.C. have also received grants through donor advised funds held at SVCF. Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian relief organization, has received grants through donor advised funds held at SVCF. Importantly, Islamic Relief USA has received funding through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
As one of the largest grantmakers in the country, SVCF takes its responsibility to distribute funds only to legitimate and qualified charities as allowed by U.S. law very seriously. We make every effort to ensure we are in full compliance with all applicable regulatory guidance and U.S. laws.
All of the aforementioned nonprofit organizations in question are in good standing with U.S. federal agencies and do not appear on any U.S. government list as having been tied to terrorism. SVCF completes due diligence procedures on every U.S. nonprofit organization to which it makes grants through a service that is used nationally by nearly all foundations, called GuideStar. One of the items that GuideStar reports on is whether a nonprofit organization is identified as a “Specially Designated National” on the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list. In simpler terms, this is the list of U.S. organizations designated as having links to terrorist organizations. None of the CAIR entities to which we have made grants, nor Islamic Relief USA, are on this list.
Further, SVCF has consulted additional databases, including Bridger and World-Check, that are used to vet international organizations and has found no indications that CAIR or Islamic Relief USA has been flagged by a U.S. entity as having links to terrorism.
If the Middle East Forum does have evidence that a nonprofit organization has links to terrorism, we strongly encourage them to immediately provide that information to the relevant U.S. government agencies for their review and determination. In this way, all U.S. foundations and individual donors can have access to, and be guided by, the same official sources of information. By asking that funds be withheld to lawful U.S. nonprofit organizations without an official determination by the appropriate U.S. government agencies amounts to censorship. MEF is attempting to do through intimidation and falsehoods what they are apparently unable to do through the official legal review process to address such matters. SVCF will not be intimidated, and we find MEF's behavior dangerous to our democracy and inconsistent with U.S. values.
“We are proud of our support for CAIR of the San Francisco Bay Area and the work they do to enhance understanding of Muslims and Islam, encourage dialogue and protect the civil liberties of American Muslims. We stand by the grants we have made to CAIR and to Islamic Relief,” said Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., CEO and president of SVCF. “Furthermore, we have conducted due diligence on Middle East Forum and we are profoundly troubled by the racist ideology espoused by their leaders."
Daniel Pipes, president of Middle East Forum, has written in support of using the internment of Japanese Americans in camps as a possible model for U.S. policy toward American Muslims. (http://www.danielpipes.org/2309/why-the-japanese-internment-still-matters). The Southern Poverty Law Center also has written about his views on the Middle East (https://www.splcenter.org/20161025/journalists-manual-field-guide-anti-muslim-extremists#pipes). In addition, SVCF would point to a report by the Center for American Progress that asserts five “experts” are primarily responsible for the dissemination of false facts and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups and the media to generate unreasonable fears about Muslims and Islam. Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, seven foundations have provided over $42 million in support for this focused campaign, the report determined. (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/reports/2011/08/26/10165/fear-inc/)
SVCF views the false claims by the Middle East Forum as part of a growing Islamophobia spreading across America to which we stand in steadfast opposition. Moreover, we find abhorrent the suggestion that America's regrettable internment of Japanese American citizens would be used as an example for developing U.S. policy toward Muslims citizens and residents living in the U.S. SVCF is a passionate champion and advocate for diversity and inclusiveness. We recognize that not everyone will be in support of the mission and work of every nonprofit organization. America's greatness is our laws that guarantee the freedom of speech, right to assembly and freedom of religion that is reflected in the giving of individual donors and the heterogeneity of our vibrant nonprofit sector.
In our 10-year history, SVCF has been a strong advocate for diversity, inclusion and supporting programs that help immigrants to the United States become integrated into the fabric of our communities. Some examples of our work in this area:
- Immigration impact report – report on SVCF’s immigration grantmaking strategy since 2008
- A Nation of Us – website devoted to covering immigration issues in the Bay Area
- The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Identity and Community – report completed by the One Nation Bay Area Project, in which SVCF partnered with four other philanthropic organizations
SVCF is proud of its commitment to diversity and the work our grantees have done to strengthen the system of legal services available to immigrants and refugees in the Bay Area. Read more about our current efforts to support the safety and security of local immigrants.