The efforts of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies to disparage the New Israel Fund have not slowed in recent weeks. In fact, we’ve seen an escalation in the attacks, including an effort by the prime minister to call out NIF’s own Mickey Gitzin by name.
What did Mickey do to merit this treatment by Israel’s head of government?
He called for Israeli Jews to come out and join a demonstration led by Palestinian citizens of Israel against the Nation-State Law. That’s right, Mickey — who works day-in and day-out to promote equality and democracy in Israel — made a plea for solidarity among Israelis and got slammed for it by no less than the prime minister himself.
Seems absurd, right?
You and I are not the only ones who think so. That was exactly the word that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak used to describe Netanyahu’s attack on Mickey.
In an interview with Galei Tzahal, Barak said:
“Where does the prime minister find the time to do this?… He goes after an IDF Reserve Officer, a man named Mickey Gitzin. The prime minister targets him and explicitly incites against him when this person’s only sin is that he leads a fund that contributes millions every year to Israeli society, including to the work of the ministries of his government.
“This is absurd. The prime minister is like a body infected with an auto-immune disease and the immune system attacks the body itself.”
And it is not only Barak who felt compelled to respond to Netanyahu’s attacks on NIF. Amram Mitzna — the former chief of the Labor Party, a former MK, the former mayor of Haifa and of Yerucham, and a retired IDF Major General — stepped up and made a donation to NIF.
Explaining his donation, Mitzna said:
“I have been watching NIF for many years and very much respect the way it operates. The attacks of the past few weeks and months against NIF and its work have disturbed me. I decided I needed to do something and not only to admire NIF’s work from afar, but also to make a donation and to tell the public what I think of NIF.”
“What really upsets me is the unbearable ease with which the government, and the right-wing parties, and the prime minister’s spokesmen attack civil society groups… All of these organizations go about their work motivated by the values of democracy, of equality, and of solidarity. ”
“A vibrant, dynamic, critical civil society is the soul of every normative, liberal, and humanistic society. An active civil society is the unique spirit that is essential to every vibrant and resilient society. NIF has stood for years alongside organizations that together constitute Israeli civil society.”
Each in their own way, these two retired IDF generals were drawing a line in the sand. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies have gone too far. NIF is not only a legitimate part of Israeli society, but rather it is, they argued, a necessary part of Israeli democracy. An attack on NIF is an attack on Israeli society.
It has not been pleasant to weather the attacks that the prime minister and his political allies have launched to try to discredit NIF these past nine years, but if there is a silver lining to be had it is that these high profile smears have driven more and more people in Israel and around the world to take a stand in solidarity with, and in defense of our organization. Barak and Mitzna are but two of the more recent examples of the many Israelis from all walks of life — security officials, political leaders, intellectuals — who could not remain on the sidelines in the face of the prime minister’s strongarm tactics.
We have a vision of Israel — based on the best of Jewish and democratic values — as a thriving society in which every individual has equal rights, in which Israelis of different ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds can live side-by-side as partners with a stake in the country’s success, in which every person is free to practice his or her religion as he or she sees fit. This is the vision of Israel that all of us must continue to press for.