The fund was created by former eBay president and vice president Jeff Skoll in 2009. Skoll, whose net worth is roughly $3.2 billion, is a prominent philanthropist and founder of the production company Participant Media. His fund was created to tackle global threats and challenges that have "the potential to kill or debilitate very large numbers of people or cause significant economic or social dislocation or paralysis throughout the world." In other words, Skoll Global Threats Fund seeks to prevent the threats that could toss the world into the apocalypse through a "cross-cutting focus." One of these threats, Skoll believes, is the Middle East conflict.
With this goal in mind, the fund has chosen to give $1.5 million over four years to J Street, a liberal — and at times controversial — advocacy group, whose stated aim is to assist American policymakers to end the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestine conflicts in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. J Street is staunchly for a two-state solution, although the organization did oppose Palestine’s statehood bid to the U.N., calling it "unilateral."
The fund's interest in J Street is curious. For one, Skoll doesn't accept unsolicited applications; hence, presumably there was a connection to J Street prior to the grant. However, like Skoll, J Street is a young organization. Skoll's website doesn’t offer too much of an explanation as to its activities with J Street; instead, it simply states that the $1.5 million grant will be distributed for over four years to the J Street Education Fund "to support its efforts to mobilize a Jewish American constituency in support of an even-handed U.S. policy towards Israel." It’s not exactly an "in-depth" description of what the money is supposed to be doing.
Furthermore, J Street has been the occasional magnet for controversy. It came under fire from Israel’s U.S. Ambassador, Michael Oren, in 2009, who claimed the advocacy group "could impair Israel’s interests." In 2010, confidential documents mistakenly made public by the Internal Revenue Service demonstrated that the group had received $750,000 in funding from George Soros after denying the claim that Soros founded the organization in the years prior. (Interestingly, the Skoll Global Threats Fund is mentioned as one of J Street’s many funders in the section debunking this myth on the J Street webpage.) And in several other cases, it has come under fire for its liberal-leaning stance on issues such as the settlers as well as the occasional speaking choices or ad campaigns.
In terms of threat prevention in the Middle East, it will be interesting to see what comes of the fund's involvement with J Street as well as who else it chooses to back financially. Who knows, maybe Skoll will surprise us with a grant to, say, StandWithUs or CAMERA.
Photo: Flickr/Zachary Baumgartner