NEW YORK – Writers for MIFTAH – a nonprofit founded in 1998 by Hanan Ashrawi, a vocal advocate for the Palestinian cause who is well regarded by Western officials – resurfaced a centuries-old smear over the Passover holiday on their Arabic website that accuses Jews of using Christian blood in the preparation of Passover matza.

Invocation of the blood libel shocked Jewish groups after it was picked up in English by a blog called the Elder of Ziyon.

The collective pressure from these groups over several days was apparently enough to force a retraction from MIFTAH – only after the nonprofit initially refused to apologize.

But the true shock has come from MIFTAH’s benefactors, who have struggled to distance their financial support over several years from the organization’s more extremist activities.

The governments of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, and Norway, among other EU members, have provided funding for MIFTAH at least through 2011, according to NGO Monitor, which tracks the financing of major nongovernmental organizations.

And the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded through an act of US Congress, has provided MIFTAH with nearly $180,000 between 2007 and 2012.

“The whole funding process is very cloudy – it’s not very transparent at all,” said Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “The NED didn’t do their due diligence.

Hanan Ashrawi was able to sell [MIFTAH’s] activities as pro-peace and pro-civil society, and they didn’t look to see what kind of organization they’re running. It was probably based more than anything on personal connections, which is obviously a problem.”

Made aware of these concerns, the NED told The Jerusalem Post that its financial support for MIFTAH was directed toward its young leaders program, and was never directed toward its website operations.

NED’s spokesman noted that additional funding for MIFTAH was not granted this year by the NED board of directors.

But when asked how the NED tracked its funding as earmarked for youth programs, as opposed to its website operations, they had no additional comment.

“Funders need to be vigilant about the groups they fund, and require accountability,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League, calling the entire episode “outrageous.”

While Steinberg believes that Ashrawi’s clout brings in easy money, he says that unfortunately that’s how the nonprofit world often works, and that MIFTAH is hardly exceptional.

Yet MIFTAH, an organization with the explicit mission of furthering the narrative of the Palestinian cause, has succeeded in gaining repeated partnerships with UNESCO, which could not be reached for comment for this story.

“European organizations are in the news every day discussing settlements, and they refuse to repudiate things like this,” said Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“UNESCO should never have accepted the false Palestinian narrative.”

In the past, MIFTAH has published on its website accusations of Israeli genocide, mass murder, and apartheid against the Palestinians.

“MIFTAH addresses the grievances caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and all of the illegal practices that come with it,” Joharah Baker, a writer for MIFTAH, said to the Post in an email.

“Our goal is a two-state solution that provides justice to the Palestinians; anti- Semitism does not fit into our philosophy or rhetoric, and never will.”

Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.

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