"The Brightest Spot in Israeli Democracy"

18 February 2010 By New Israel Fund

As many of you now know, the New Israel Fund is under attack from those seeking to weaken Israel's democratic foundation by equating the legitimate and necessary work of human rights groups with disloyalty to Israel.

The scurrilous campaign falsely accuses NIF of working to weaken Israel by supporting human rights, and personally demonizes NIF president and former Deputy Knesset Speaker Naomi Chazan, in a manner many commentators have likened to historic anti-Semitic propaganda. The comprehensive media campaign, which began three weeks ago with an exclusive article in Ma'ariv and a spate of advertisements in major Israeli dailies grotesquely caricaturing Professor Chazan with a horn on her head, was designed by the architect of the anti-disengagement settler organizations and is being spearheaded by Im Tirtzu, a right wing organization with strong ties and shared funding with extreme branches of the settler movement.

While we were shocked by the virulence of the accusations, we were not surprised by the attack itself. It is part and parcel of an extraordinarily heavy-handed backlash against democratic values that has become all too evident in the last year.  The real agenda is to de-legitimize the New Israel Fund, shut down the human rights organizations we fund, and marginalize the progressive values for which we stand as "anti-Israel."

Regular readers of NIF News understand this attack as the latest in what appears to be a coordinated attempt to stifle dissent.  The arrest of the executive director of our flagship grantee, ACRI, at a peaceful demonstration…the interrogation of the director of the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center for her role in leading egalitarian women's prayers at the Western Wall…violent attacks on Israeli judges …threatened Knesset legislation requiring loyalty oaths and other measures targeted to the Arab minority and progressive organizations in general…the list unfortunately goes on.

The actual "research report" produced to tie NIF to the Goldstone report has now been thoroughly debunked by us and the media (e.g. Forward and JTA.) Timed to capitalize on the Israeli public's anger at Goldstone, the report erroneously reported that more than 90% of the Goldstone negative allegations about the IDF were sourced to Israeli human rights groups supported by NIF. In reality, less than 14% of the report's citations were attributed to groups funded by NIF, and the vast majority of Goldstone's most controversial conclusions originated in official statements by the Israeli military and political leadership. (A new source-by-source report under preparation by NIF-Israel indicates that NIF-funded groups actually provided less than 2% of the Goldstone material on Gaza.) And our funding for these organizations comprises less than 10% of our overall grant-making. But because these human rights groups work on the most complicated and sensitive issues in Israel, they attract more than their share of controversy.

The truth is that the New Israel Fund supports Israel's most reputable and internationally-respected human rights groups.  These groups fulfilled their mission by carefully monitoring and reporting on the Gaza operation – and provided reports that have been utilized by the IDF, the Goldstone Commission, and others.  In turn, it is the task of an independent inquiry to assess these reports and put them in context.  Indeed, these human rights groups were also among the first to declare the need for an independent Israeli inquiry into the events of Gaza.

Many leaders of the Jewish community, in Israel, the U.S., and elsewhere around the world, have spoken out against the defamation of the New Israel Fund. A proposed Knesset inquiry into NIF and the organizations it supports was defeated, thanks in no small measure to hundreds if not thousands of NIF supporters who contacted the Prime Minister's office in Israel.  Israeli leaders across the political spectrum voiced opposition to the idea of a political witch-hunt against progressive civil society, although the original sponsor and his political allies have publicly vowed to continue his attempts in the Knesset.

What We Will Do…and What You Can Do to Help

Even before the specific attack on NIF, we committed ourselves to new initiatives in Israel on the issues of highest concern, including human rights, anti-racism and defending democracy against those who conflate self-examination and social justice with Israel's real enemies.  We will need your support to expand what have become critically important programs, and initiate new ones.

As you may know, the New Israel Fund has never spent resources on "building its brand" – every dollar not spent on basic operations goes to fund positive social change in Israel.  But now, we hope you will share our alarm at the bold attempts by authoritarian extremists, in government and out, who publicly declare the need to stifle criticism, muzzle and defund organizations critical of various aspects of Israeli society, and even outlaw legitimate expressions of speech and conscience. 

And so we will not be silent.

As columnist Gershom Goremberg recently wrote:

"So the fight here isn't over funding.  It's about free speech.  For several decades, the brightest spot in Israeli democracy has been the growth of groups independent of the government and political parties that promote civil rights and social equality…The New Israel Fund has helped these and many other groups financially.  In the process, it has given liberal Diaspora Jews a way to contribute to Israel's future -- without schizophrenically acting as liberals at home and jingoists in Israel." 

In the coming days and weeks, we will ask the supporters of the New Israel Fund to speak up and speak out – in your synagogues and temples, in the pages of your local newspapers, at your Hillel, on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.  We will ask that you educate and recruit your friends and family to understand the issues at stake in Israel, bring these concerns to your communities and participate in building the Israel we all know to be possible.

For thirty years, NIF has founded and funded progressive civil society in Israel.  We and our organizations are proud of our accomplishments and we will not yield to those who confuse building a better and society with anti-Zionism and other inflammatory catch-phrases.  And with your help, we will continue and succeed in building the Israel of which we all can be proud.