The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), a New York City-based NGO, funded by the Ford Foundation and other philanthropies, claims to “promote social justice through human rights.” However, CESR publications on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict promote a highly political agenda, reflected in a one-sided Palestinian narrative that erases the context of terrorism. CESR campaigns demonize Israel and involve partnerships with organizations such as ICAHD, Sabeel, and the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. CESR’s public relations activities and special consultative status with the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ECOSOC) provide a forum to promote its radical ideology, masked in the rhetoric of universal rights.
According to its mission statement, CESR’s objectives include advancing “social justice through human rights” as well as promoting “the universal right of every human being to housing, education, health, and a healthy environment, food, work, and an adequate standard of living.” CESR’s extensive activities related to Israel and the Palestinian Territories claim to highlight “the root cause of ESCR violations [Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights] – the discrimination and brutality inherent in the Israeli occupation – and to advocate for alternatives that recognize and promote equal rights for all people living under Israeli rule.”
CESR was co-founded in 1993 by two lawyers and a scientist from Harvard University: Roger Normand, Sarah Zaidi, and Christopher Jochnick. Following a 2004 leadership change, CESR is now headed by Eitan Felner, a former director of B’Tselem and previous chair of the Israeli Section of Amnesty International.
According to its website, CESR was established on a grant of “a little over $100,000 from the MacArthur Foundation and the Echoing Green Foundation […and] currently manages an annual budget of well over half a million dollars.” In 2004, CESR received a $435,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and has also received funds from the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Samuel Rubin Foundation, and the Life Foundation as well as substantial donations from Elizabeth Benjamin, Carol Bernstein Ferry, and Claude Welch.
CESR AT THE UN
CESR produces articles, fact-sheets, and reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and also organizes conferences and teach-ins on topics such as “Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return” and “Great Expectations, Bitter Realities: Human Rights Abuse and Economic Decline under the Oslo Process.” In addition, CESR’s special consultative status with the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has enabled it to provide reports and oral testimonies to the UN including the discredited and now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights.
CESR’S COOPERATION WITH OTHER NGOS
CESR coordinates research projects on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its New York City and Gaza regional offices with a variety of organizations, including LAW , Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Palestinian Ministry of Education, UNRWA, Birzeit University, The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Defense of Children International/Palestine Section, as well as Caritas, Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, and PENGON. As past NGO Monitor reports have documented, many of these NGOs are active in promoting the Durban strategy of demonization against Israel.
In October 2001, together with over 200 NGOs and individuals, including Christian Peacemaker Teams, Grassroots International, Israel Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, MADRE, US Campaign to Stop the Wall, and Friends of Sabeel -North America, CESR helped to create U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. This organization spearheads the divestment campaign, promotes the “right” of return and perpetuates extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, for example attacking Israel’s disengagement from Gaza as “a prelude to consolidating Apartheid.”
CESR formerly employed Lucy Mair, who, as documented in a previous NGO Monitor report, has written for Electronic Intifada and is currently employed by Human Rights Watch as a researcher on Israel/Palestine issues. Mair contributed to CESR reports to the UN, coordinated protests against Israeli officials, and organized events which promoted a decidedly one-sided and highly distorted view of the conflict.
THE PRIMACY OF THE ANTI-ISRAEL AGENDA
In the introduction to one report entitled “Violations of the Right to Education During the Al-Aqsa Intifada,” CESR claims that the so-called ‘second intifada’ “led to the most comprehensive Israeli military and economic siege ever experienced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).” Through a selective application of human rights norms, CESR emphasizes the Palestinian right to education, while making no mention of Israel’s right to defend its citizens from Palestinian terrorist attacks.
A 2001 report submitted to UN ECOSOC, entitled “Under Siege: Israeli Human Rights Violations in Palestine,” highlights the primacy of CESR’s political agenda. The report asserts that “…while Israel’s occupation is the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the current systematic violations of economic, social and cultural rights in the OPT derive from Israel’s interrelated policies of […] closure, curfew and siege.” By rewriting the history of the conflict, and grounding its attacks on Israel in human-rights terminology, CESR exploits the “halo-effect” surrounding human rights NGOs to advance a highly biased, pro-Palestinian narrative.
In a highly contradictory fashion, CESR criticizes IDF actions, while cynically justifying Palestinian violence as an “expression of Palestinian frustration and rage over the accelerated loss of land and freedom under the Oslo process, a period that was supposed to bring peace and improved living conditions.”
In summary, CESR’s political agenda, shrouded in the rhetoric of “social justice through human rights,” consistently serves to delegitimize Israel by erasing the context of terrorism and promoting the Palestinian narrative, while absolving the Palestinians of accountability. Instead of advocating for “social justice using human rights tools and strategies,” CESR exploits the “halo-effect” of human rights work in order to advance the strategy of demonization proclaimed in the 2001 Durban conference.
By Aaron Beitman
This report was sent to the following officials at the Ford Foundation for comment. As of publication, we have received no response:
Susan Berresford, President, Ford Foundation
Marta L. Tellado, Vice President for Communications, Ford Foundation