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Morbid Philanthropy By: Alyssa A. Lappen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, September 22, 2005

In its 2004 annual report, the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation notes that it has “invested more than $400 million in pursuing a more secure world.” After the Cold War, the foundation sought to prevent “nuclear weapons ... from falling into the wrong hands.” The “Age of Terror,” however, has urgently refocused MacArthur on its “duty” to understand “transnational terrorists,” who they are, how they are organized, how they gain “moral, political and economic support”—and what “resentments and frustrations” drive them “to perpetrate terrorist acts.” [1]

From this departure point—the wrongheaded belief that frustrations drive terror—it is a short leap to seeking a scapegoat. It explains the foundation's tendency, where the Middle East is concerned, to shower gifts upon researchers, universities and quasi academic institutions with an anti-American or anti-Israel bent. In doing so its grants cross the line into overt political advocacy.


Favorite Middle East grantees include “human rights” and “law” efforts with anti-American attitudes. [2] A $250,000 grant in March 2003 to Human Rights Watch “to monitor the human rights impacts of the war in Iraq” focuses primarily on U.S. rather than terrorists' “human rights violations.” [3] 


But studies of “Palestine” seem to be a foundation specialty. In October 2000, $51,000 was directed to the Institute for Palestine Studies—hardly a disinterested party—for a nine month study of “Palestinian Refugee Property Losses and Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The grant evidently backed anti-Israel Randolph-Macon College history professor Michael Fischbach, who published a paper on Palestinian refugee compensation in its Journal of Palestine Studies. [4]


An October 2001 grant of $50,000 to the University of Chicago—to study “The Palestinian Defeat of 1948” and the “Lingering Impact of the Lack of State Structure”—  was also typical, as was a $90,000 grant in September 2001 to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. [5] The latter was funneled to its London Middle East Research Programme, then headed by Cambridge professor and former Palestinian negotiator Yezid Sayigh.


Headed by IISS “research fellow” Nomi Bar-Yaacov, the program established a caucus to lobby for third-party involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict and hosted the architects of the Geneva Accord. Bar-Yaacov herself received a $75,000 grant in October 2001 for an 18 month study of “New Strategies and Mechanisms for the Protection of Human Rights in the Disputed Areas in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” [6]


MacArthur has gifted academics with much larger sums as well. Tel Aviv University professors Nadim N Rouhana and Yoav Peled in October 2002 received $50,000 each to study “Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return.” [7]


Peled has unfortunately had a broad impact in American institutions: In 2003-2004, he was a visiting fellow at the Rutgers University's Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture and its Center for Middle Eastern Studies [8] and a visiting scholar at the Center for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia. [9] He has had frequent speaking engagements and news conferences, in which he espoused a pro-Palestinian view. [10]


Rouhana, a self-described “strong anti-Zionist” and Palestinian Israeli who supports “a bi-national state in Palestine,” [11] has likewise left wide anti-Israel tracks in U.S. educational institutions. Currently a professor at George Mason University's Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, [12] he was in 2004 a visiting associate professor at Tuft's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and previously a senior visiting fellow of Harvard's World Peace Foundation-International Security Program. [13] He too is on the anti-Israel speakers' circuit. [14]


MacArthur also granted an award to Sara Roy, [15] whom scholar Martin Kramer calls a “perennial” senior research scholar at the Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Her research purported to demonstrate that Palestinian Islamic movements in the West Bank were “moving toward a more pragmatic and non-confrontational philosophy.” [16]


Roy believes that Israeli soldiers are “equivalent in principle, intent, and impact” to Nazis. She even blames suicide bombings on “the occupation.” [17] But her renown garners her speaking engagements and invitations to symposiums nationwide. [18] Her work has been noted in advisories to the U.S. armed forces. [19] And she often writes in the Arab and academic press. [20] In one recent article she alleged that Israel intentionally wrecked the Palestinian economy. [21]


When it comes to understanding the Middle East, the MacArthur Foundation seems determined even to misapprehend the past. A five-year $500,000 genius award in 2004 went to Maria Mavroudi, an assistant professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley who insists that the Arabic world enriched  Byzantine civilization rather than the other way around. [22] In fact, as Speros Vryonis Jr. shows conclusively in the encyclopedic Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh Century through the Fifteenth Century, far from enriching Byzantium, its Islamic conquest, transformation and conversion to Islam raped, pillaged and impoverished an entire civilization. [23]


The Macarthur Foundation is an unacknowledged NGO with a unacknowledged anti-American and anti-Israeli agenda. Its support for children’s TV programming notwithstanding, the Macarthur Foundation’s influence on America’s understanding of the Middle East has been disastrous. 

Alyssa A. Lappen is a writer based in New York. She wrote this piece for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies.


[1]John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation, 2004 annual report, pp. 6-9.

[2]The Palestinian National Charter, 1968; The Palestinian Authority Constitution, Apr. 5, 2003; Khaled Abu Toameh, “Queri: Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Post, Aug 4, 2005.

[3]Iraq: US checkpoints continue to kill,” Human Rights News, May 5, 2005; “Abu Ghraib: only the 'tip of the iceberg',” Human Rights Watch press release, Apr. 25, 2005; “Getting away with torture? Command responsibility for the US abuse of detainees,” Human Rights Watch press release, Apr. 23, 2005; Joe Stork, “Give 'Chemical Ali' his due, fairly,” The Daily Star, Feb. 26, 2005;

[4]Michael R. Fischbach, “The usefulness of the UNCCP archives for Palestinian refugee compensation/restitution claims,” Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee Research, Ottawa, Canada, June 17-20, 2003.


[6]Ibid, http://macfound.org/grants/gss/2001/gss2001_7_1.htm .




[10]Prospects for Peace with Justice: Israeli and Palestinian academics speak their minds,” Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Oct. 22, 2003; “A road map to where,” State University of New York at Stony Brook, Apr. 21, 2004; “Israeli media artist and political scientist discuss conditions of production there,” The Thing, New York City, Jul. 21, 2004; “Alternative voices in the Middle East,” International Affairs Building, Columbia University, Nov. 20, 2004; “War in the Middle East: the case for a just and realistic peace between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Tufts University, Apr. 22, 2002; http://www.levantinecenter.org/pages/calendarOct02.html; “Faculty for peace,” Mount Holyoke, Apr. 23, 2002; Jane Adas, “The fate of Jerusalem: 'An inevitable tragedy'?” Washington Report, January/February 2005, pp. 50-51; “No Arab Jews there: Shas and the Palestinians,” Transregional Institute, Princeton University, Mar. 5, 2004; “The Or commission and issues of ethnic democracy,” Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Feb. 3, 2004; http://pioneer.csuhayward.edu/PioneerWeb/PioneerNews4-25-02/PioneerNews4-25-02-Page5.pdf; “Israeli and Palestinian fringe elements have worked to undermine the Oslo process, says Peled,” Columbia University, Apr. 25, 2002.

[11]Nadim Rouhana, “Third world views of the Holocaust,” Northeastern University Symposium, Apr. 18-20, 2001.

[12] http://icar.gmu.edu/faculty_nrouhana.htm


[14]Harriet P. Epstein, “Platform for extremist,” Letters, Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Jun. 3, 2005; “New voices from Palestine,” University of Wisconsin at Madison, Nov. 19, 2002;  Israeli views  on the refugees problem and the right of return: between denial and guilt,” Trans-Arab Research Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dec. 5, 2000; http://web.mit.edu/shass/temp/bustani/bustani_seminar.htm; “Beyond signing of peace agreements: social-psychological perspectives on reconciliation and peace building,” International Society of Political Psychology, Seattle, Washington, Jul 1, 2000;


[16]Sara Roy, “The transformation of Islamic NGOs in Palestine,” Middle East Report, #214,m Spring 2000.

[17]Sara Roy, “How to stop Hamas: first end the occupation,” The Daily Star, Jun. 20, 2003.

[18]On Dignity and Dissent: Reflections of a Child of Holocaust Survivors,” Monmouth University 3rd Annual Global Understanding Convention, Mar. 24, 2004; “The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its impact on Palestinian society,” Congregation Eitz Chaim, Jan. 9, 2005; “Palestinian-Israel Crisis: An Analysis,” University of Delaware, Feb. 21, 2001; “From Oslo to the Road Map: Explaining the Failure of Peace in the Middle East,” DePaul University, Mar. 6, 2004; “Is there a new blacklist,” Apr. 13, 2005, see also http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/jewish/AcademicFreedom.htm; Martin Kramer, “Professors of Palestine,” Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2002; Seth Wikas, “Both sides of the story,” Daily Princetonian, Apr. 23, 2001;  Friends of Sabeel North America, Apr. 12-13, 2002;

[19]Stephen Pelletiere, “Hamas and Hezbollah: the radical challenge to Israel in the occupied territories,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Nov. 10, 1994.

[20]Sara Roy, “Palestinian society: the continued denial of possibility,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2001, Vol. 30, No. 4, Issue 120; Sara Roy, “Using war to swallow Palestinian land,” The Daily Star, Sept. 23, 2003, see also http://www.lebanonwire.com/0309/03092318DS.asp; Roy, “The Palestinian state: division and despair,” Current History, Jan. 2004; Roy, “A Nightmare Peace Destroying the Basis of a Palestinian State” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol.11 No.1 2004 .


[22]The MacArthur Fellows Program, Maria Mavroudi, 2004.

[23]Speros Vryonis Jr.,  Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh Century through the Fifteenth Century, (1971, 1986), pp. 69-142, 143-288, 351-402.

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy, former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor, Working Woman and Corporate Finance, and former Associate Editor of Forbes. Her website is www.AlyssaaLappen.org.

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