Daniel Sokatch’s First Letter About the Attacks on NIF

9 February 2010

When a right-wing group with a destructive agenda and a lot of money taps into the Israeli public’s anger, the results are usually not pretty.

That’s what happened last week when a new organization made a big splash in Israel by accusing the New Israel Fund and its grantees of being behind the Goldstone Report. Timed to capitalize on the anger many Israelis feel about the Goldstone conclusions, and personalized with a particularly despicable attack on NIF President Naomi Chazan, the attack was the latest salvo in a coordinated attempt to de-legitimize civil society, repress the activities of the human rights community and weaken Israeli democracy.

To our many friends and supporters who have already leapt to our defense, thank you. To those of you who know the New Israel Fund as the leading organization advancing democracy and equality in Israel, with a thirty-year record of serious accomplishment, we ask you to support us as we combat the increasingly authoritarian and extremist ideology taking hold in Israel.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on the social justice community in Israel.

Several weeks ago Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of longtime NIF grantee the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement, was hauled into a police station, fingerprinted and interrogated for her prayer sessions at the Kotel with Women of the Wall.  A week later, it was the arrest of Hagai El-Ad, the CEO of NIF’s flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), during a peaceful demonstration in East Jerusalem that ACRI was monitoring to protect freedom of speech.

Now it is us.

A number of the civil and human rights organizations that are funded and supported by NIF have written challenging, thoughtful criticisms of how the Israeli military behaved during Gaza Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. The most recent attacks on NIF claim that if only we didn’t exist, if only we didn’t support these organizations in their work, Goldstone would not have had the evidence needed to come to the conclusions presented in his report.

The ugly language and personal threats against NIF and our President are all too reminiscent of the atmosphere of incitement and hatred that preceded the Rabin assassination. Sadly, these vicious attacks are being launched against the very organizations that protect Israel and its international reputation as a vibrant democracy.

The human rights organizations that examined and reported on human rights concerns during and after the Gaza operation were the first to declare that the Israeli government must launch an independent inquiry into the events of Gaza. They were acting out of a profound sense of patriotism and love of Israel.  They are not monolithic and differ on many issues, including the conclusions of the Goldstone report.

As Americans who remember the role of our own human rights organizations in exposing the abuses of torture during the last administration, we understand full well that it is the role of social justice and civil society to hold up a mirror to society, and work towards making change. In Israel, where security concerns are always paramount, we should be especially proud of the record of the human rights groups we have incubated and supported and their enormous contribution to Israeli democracy.

NIF has been attacked before for our role as the lead funder of social justice and human rights in Israel. We continue to be a lightning rod for those who insist that Israel is always right. But as our board member and former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said at last Sunday’s Town Hall Meeting, perhaps many years ago the existential threats to Israel’s continued existence warranted disregard for its flaws for the sake of survival, but no longer. Today, the question is not whether Israel survives, but what kind of Israel survives. As Professor Chazan said that day, the question is not whether Israel is always right or always wrong but what we will do to solve the very real problems Israel has.

NIF stands for the efforts of thousands of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who are dedicated to working towards the Israel they know  to be possible; one which upholds the dignity of all of its people.

Please stand with us, and our family of organizations, and contribute what you can, as we deepen our commitment to a just and democratic Israel.



Daniel Sokatch
Chief Executive Officer

P.S. Read about NIF and its allies in the Jerusalem Post.