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Sunday, October 7, 2007

State Department Anti-Semitic Program: The Rest of the Story

Last week we reported that the State Department was holding a class for Middle East entrepreneurs--every body was invited except Israeli Jews See U.S. State Dept Funded "No Jews Allowed" Program Well there is more to the story apparently this program has been going on for three years...this years' funding was upwards of ten million dollars--it is a congressionally funded program, but neither congress or the state department people responsible for its implementation knew that it was a "no Jews allowed" program. As I reported last week Stewart Ain of the Jewish Week made the State Department aware of the bias A department spokeswoman at first said the program was open to all and never discriminated against Jews. But after she checked over the weekend she acknowledged that had not been the case.

The reason the bias happened in the first place is that the State Department hired an Arab Company, Amideast to handle the recruitment.

What will astound you the most as your read the story below is the lack of communication in the State Department---it is a truly scary story

Federal Program Barred Israeli Jews For Three Years

New outreach after Israeli entrepreneur blows whistle on discriminatory practice in business leadership program.

Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent

Jerusalem — A State Department-sponsored program to promote entrepreneurship in the Middle East has been excluding Israeli Jews but accepting Arabs from 16 countries — including Israel — since its inception in 2004.

But it wasn’t until an Israeli Jewish woman complained to Israeli reporters last month that the State Department interceded with the program administrator to stop the “no Jews allowed” policy.

The Jewish woman, Miriam Schwab, owner of a small Jerusalem marketing firm, had received a Google Alert about the entrepreneurial training program. She thought it would be ideal for her until she noticed it was open only to Israeli Arabs and the residents of neighboring Arab nations.

“I was in shock,” she later said. “It seemed like blatant discrimination. How can you accept just one kind of Israeli participant and not another? After all, the money comes from the State Department.”

When her e-mails to the State Department and the program’s administrator, the Beyster Institute at the respected Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, went unanswered, she turned to a group of fellow freelance writers in Israel.

One of them, who contacted the Middle East Entrepreneurial Training program for clarification, received a response from Mona Yousry, an official with MEET, who wrote in an e-mail message, “The program is open only to Arab citizens of Israel.”

But hours later, Rob Fuller, director of Entrepreneur Programs at the Beyster Institute, wrote to others, saying, “I am sorry for the unfortunate misunderstanding about eligibility for the new MEET program. To be clear, for the programs for which we are now recruiting, to be held in 2008, ALL Israeli citizens are eligible to participate.”

He then said a corrected press release was being distributed.

The State Department told The Jewish Week that it had been unaware that a press release about the program — which since 2004 has received nearly $10 million — had included the restriction against Israeli Jews.

A department spokeswoman at first said the program was open to all and never discriminated against Jews. But after she checked with Fuller, she acknowledged that had not been the case.

“Apparently a mistake was made by his staff in the application [process],” she said. “They [have] corrected it.”

A source familiar with the program said that only since Schwab blew the whistle have Israeli Jews applied for the program. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the Beyster Institute had subcontracted with Amideast, a private, nonprofit organization, to handle the recruitment for MEET, recruiting 95 of the 150 persons who attended. Amideast is based in Washington and has a network of field offices in Arab countries throughout the Middle East. It says its office in Israel is in the West Bank/Gaza, which is predominantly Arab.

The Beyster Institute’s 2004 annual report pointedly stated that the only Israelis who could apply for the program were Israeli Arabs.

Since Schwab’s alert, the State Department ordered that applications be accepted from all and some Israeli Jews have applied for the program, according to David Foley, a spokesman for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. No decisions about admission have yet been made.

To publicize the program in Israel, Foley said advertisements would be taken out in Hebrew in Israeli newspapers.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, Nassau), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said he had understood MEET to be similar to an affirmative action program for Middle East Arabs.

“The intent of the program is to get Arabs to be entrepreneurial so they will have few problems and pay their own way and participate in the global economy,” he said. “We want to create employment for them so they don’t blow themselves up. We are competing with the Jihadi school.”

Ackerman added: “It would appear, the argument goes, that [Jewish] people in Israel proper aren’t in need of going to school to learn about entrepreneurship.”

But Schwab, whose complaint led to the change, said that when she saw the announcement about the course in the Sept. 18 online edition of Al Bawaba, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, she thought she could learn from it.

The paper described it as “an innovative” 10-day training program “designed to identify, develop and sustain a new core of leaders in business and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”

The program — which will run three separate seminars in 2008 in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco — is sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

“It looked really interesting, especially since the word ‘Israel’ came up in Google Alert,” Schwab recalled. “The ad said they were especially looking for women entrepreneurs and people involved in social activism. I run monthly business meetings for small business owners and freelancers, and I thought, ‘I’m a great candidate.’”

Then Schwab, who holds both Israeli and Canadian citizenship, read the fine print: “Applications will be accepted from citizens of the following countries and territories: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.”

In explaining the mistake, Fuller said he had “just” received word from the State Department that “the program is now open to everyone in the MENA region.” The government, he said, “has just changed the way it funds its Middle East programs.”

When asked whether Israeli Jews had been eligible since the program’s launch in 2004, Fuller answered the question indirectly.

“When the program was started a few years ago, Israel was covered by its own congressional funding allocation, so there were already programs in place for Israeli citizens,” he said. “At the time, Israel was not funded by the MEPI allocation. In the meantime, the Congress changed the way funding is done and now all of the Middle East, including Israel, is covered.”

Pressed to explain why Arab Israelis have been eligible all along, if Israel was not part of the MEPI allocation, Fuller said, “It’s a fact that at one time Israeli Arabs were excluded by programs open to Jewish Israelis.”

State Department officials were clearly caught off guard by inquiries related to MEET.

Foley insisted that MEET “does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion, national origin or handicap. This policy is consistent with all relevant U.S. government statutes and regulations.”

When presented with evidence to the contrary, Foley replied, “the program has always been open to Israeli Jews [and] accepts applications from all Israelis. Any information to the contrary would be an error.”

And both Foley and Ackerman said they knew nothing of Fuller’s assertion that Jewish and Arab Israelis are funded by two different pots of money.

What is clear is that MEPI, which allocates tens of millions of dollars to a wide range of programs in the Middle East and North Africa, was created to help develop democratic values in the Arab world, according to online State Department reports on MEPI. A MEPI notice of “new grants to NGOs 2004” doesn’t even list Israel, though it includes the West Bank and Gaza (

Some State Department releases say, “a key element of MEPI is creating links and partnerships between Arab and U.S. civil society, and with governments to jointly achieve sustainable reform.” But other releases refer to “all people in the MENA region,” which implies the inclusion of non-Arabs.

The Beyster Institute’s Web site states that MEET “does not discriminate on the basis of sex, color, age, religion, national origin or handicap.”

“This is not about religion,” Fuller said during a second interview, a defensive tone in his voice. “We have had Jewish members of the program from Arab countries. All I can tell you is that the current program is open to everyone.”

Fuller said that “those entrepreneurs in Israel who are interested in growing their businesses and reaching out to support their communities with economic development should apply for the program.” He said that MEET “will make sure everyone is comfortable and is taken care of, that everyone has the opportunity to practice their faith.”

He noted that three seminars scheduled for 2008 will take place in countries where Israelis are — theoretically — welcome to visit (though, in some cases, advised not to visit by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Schwab has applied for the seminar for small businesses slated to take place in Jordan in May.

“Assuming I’m accepted, I hope there won’t be any hostility from other participants,” she said, “but I’ve found that since I’m religious, dress modestly and have a large family Arabs tend to relate to me. We lead similar lifestyles.”

Staff writer Stewart Ain contributed to this report.

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