Behind Skoll's Bold Stance on Mideast Peace

Skoll Global Threats Fund — the brainchild (and capital child) of Jeff Skoll, the first president of eBay — has taken up the "peace in the Middle East" cause by funding numerous NGOs, such as J Street. The fund identifies the Israel-Palestine conflict as stymieing regional cooperation on cross-border challenges like "disease management and water, energy, and food security."

For the fund, J Street probably presents itself as an effective mechanism for engaging American Jewish communities in advancing a more equitable peace process. The New Israel Fund (NIF), another of Skoll’s grantees, is more focused on the civil society building process, claiming its objective to be "social justice and equality for all Israelis." Like J Street — and perhaps most organizations involved in the conflict — the NIF has not been immune to controversy. According to NGO Monitor, the NIF distributed $20 million dollars to some NGOs that "reject the legitimacy of Israel as Jewish democratic state, and are active in boycott and similar campaigns." In a similar vein, a leaked confidential State Department cable contained comments from NIF Associate Director in Israel Hedva Radanovitz, saying, "she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic." These incidents are far from the "radicalism" the hype may have claimed them to be, but they've nevertheless had an effect on the organization. 

But the $974,050 given to the NIF by Skoll for "capacity building for defense of civil rights, democratic integrity and social equity in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict" doesn’t seem to be a matter of just throwing money at the problem. Jeff Skoll and Larry Brilliant were also invited to visit Israel by President Shimon Peres. In addition to providing the fund with a "hands-on" approach of meeting with both the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, it gave them a chance to touch base with grantees, including the NIF. 

All in all, Skoll doesn’t seem to be afraid of getting his hands dirty. It's probably unlikely he's going to be handing out grants to supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but he's certainly not afraid to stake out what would be a "lefty" position in the U.S.