Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

21 August 2015

Israel and its supporters simply have no long-term choice but democracy, equality and self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians.

It has come to this. Ronn Torossian, “the most disreputable flack in New York… representing the lunatic fringe,” as described by Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, has been paid for the better part of a year to attack the New Israel Fund and its donors.

Frequently teamed up with Pamela Geller, an Islamophobe so extreme that she has been described as something of a one-woman hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Torossian and his cronies purvey outright falsehoods on extremist websites and blogs.

And now, although the editors assure us they will not run such screeds again, we must respond to the recent attack on the NIF in The Jerusalem Post.

If you care about Israel but don’t pay attention to intramural spats, here’s the synopsis.

The NIF – for 36 years a proudly progressive organization that backs Israelis working for human rights, social justice and religious freedom – has been under the gun from Israeli and American ultranationalists for more than five years. A coordinated web of far-right politicians and institutions, most associated with West Bank settlers, has attempted to shut us up and shut us down, and has extended this threat to every bona fide human rights organization in Israel. Although we firmly and consistently oppose the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and any attempt to try Israeli leaders or soldiers in foreign courts, the NIF is constantly and wrongly accused of support for these positions.

The motives of those who attack us aren’t hard to discern. The NIF opposes the occupation and West Bank settlements and favors the two-state solution. The human rights groups we support hold a mirror up to that occupation, and the results are not positive PR for the settlement enterprise. We were also the first Jewish organization to defend the rights of Israeli-Arab citizens, whom as we know from the inflammatory rhetoric that some pundits and politicians employ are still often considered to be less than rightful citizens of Israel.

Moreover, we are unwavering in our support for the Founders’ vision of Israel as a liberal democracy. We believe Israel can be both a Jewish homeland and a fair and equitable society that provides equal rights to all its citizens.

As Israeli society has polarized and as the power of messianic-minded ultranationalists has grown, we have seen the results of the increase in racism and extremism, from the streets of Jerusalem to the village of Duma.

And we refuse to keep quiet about this threat.

We also join the vast majority of American Jews and many Israelis in strongly differentiating between sovereign Israel and the settlement enterprise. We oppose Global BDS because so many in the movement deny the right to a sovereign Jewish homeland. I have personally published op–eds explaining why BDS is dangerous and counterproductive for the Left. At the same time, the NIF will not deny funding to organizations that call for a boycott of settlement products, assuming they meet our other rigorous funding criteria. Israelis deserve the right to express their outrage at the settlements, just as they might boycott stores that open on Shabbat or dairy producers that charge too much for cottage cheese

This is the crux of the matter. We who uphold democratic values including freedom of expression, and who differentiate between Tel Aviv and Kfar Tapuah, are the majority.

Our opponents are the extreme Left and Right, who support a one-state solution with or without equal rights for Palestinians, erasing the Green Line and, we believe, any prospects for self-determination for both peoples and for eventual peace. In this, Ronn Torossian, Pamela Geller and the founders of the Global BDS movement are, ironically, on the same page.

Now, a mildly interesting question for me is the identity of the clients paying Torossian’s fees. The dribble of repetitive op-eds from his PR shop appear to this communications professional – full disclosure, one who once worked for PR firms herself – like a high-priced New York company justifying a big retainer.

But for everyone else, and for tens of thousands of Americans and others who support democracy and equality in Israel, it doesn’t much matter.

Because it hasn’t worked. No matter how many mysteriously funded organizations and PR companies come at us, we are growing and succeeding. The NIF is now active in six countries. We have expanded our program in Israel to build a better infrastructure for the progressive movement and to reach out to new constituencies. The last two years were our best ever for fund¬raising. Our donors have rallied to us even when they have been called out on fringe websites, and some have even made special gifts in “honor” of Torossian and Geller.

Stooping to representation by the likes of Geller and Torossian only indicates just how desperate the extremists now are in my country.

More and more Americans understand the difference between loving Israel and supporting the current government’s policies. Of course, this government in Israel may be the most hard-line in its history; its narrative is dominant in Israel and progressives do not yet have the power to combat it.

But we will. Israel and its supporters simply have no long-term choice but democracy, equality and self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians. The vitriol from those who oppose those values will someday be seen as the last, vicious gasp from those on the wrong side of history.

This article originally ran in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post on August 21, 2015.

Jerusalem Post - Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel - An image of the column in today’s print edition.
An image of the column in today’s print edition.

Update: After publishing this op-ed, the Jerusalem Post took it off of it’s website. It also removed the original article by Ronn Torossian that this op-ed refers to. It later issued an apology to Ronn Torossian, and then a clarification and apology to the New Israel Fund. All four of these items can be accessed in this PDF file.