What to Make of the Prime Minister’s Libel?

12 April 2018

Last Monday, I woke up to exceedingly good news from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing to announce that he was ending his misguided effort to forcibly deport people seeking asylum in Israel to Rwanda and had signed an agreement with the United Nations that would resettle roughly half of this population in Western countries. He even posted a video of himself explaining why this new approach was better than the policy of forced deportation.

Under my direction, NIF welcomed this news and praised Israel’s new policy.

For months, NIF had been there alongside the massive number of Israelis who had spoken out for such a solution. We acted based on the simple principle that everyone deserves to raise their families and live their lives in peace — whether they have lived in south Tel Aviv for decades or are people seeking asylum in Israel.

Unfortunately, the prime minister did not stay the course.

In a matter of hours, he posted to Facebook that he had heard the criticism and was suspending the implementation of the agreement he’d just signed with the UN. He then added that it was the New Israel Fund that was somehow responsible for the Rwandan government’s refusal to take in people forcibly deported from Israel.

This absurd claim was quite obviously completely ridiculous. But that did not stop the prime minister from repeating it the very next day and from calling for a parliamentary commission of inquiry to examine NIF.

We all know what’s happening here. We see through the prime minister’s strategy. We know he’s lashing out to deflect attention from his morally bankrupt choices. His Facebook posts resemble the tweets that come out of the White House.

He surely thought that by attacking NIF he could both change the topic of conversation and damage the reputation of an organization that — by demanding equality, by standing for democracy, and by insisting on accountability — makes his life difficult.

Fortunately, the Israeli public is smarter than the prime minister thinks it is. Nearly every media outlet that is not a part of his echo chamber mocked the prime minister’s criticism of NIF. A grassroots phenomenon then emerged: Israelis began donating to NIF as a show of solidarity and a statement about their commitment to democracy. As you’ll read in this edition of NIF News, more than 3,000 Israelis (and hundreds of others) have chipped in to stand up to the prime minister’s bullying and to stand for free speech and for democracy.

The days ahead will not be simple — not for Israelis who cherish democracy, not for the New Israel Fund, and not for the 38,000 people seeking asylum who now find themselves in limbo — but this episode has powerfully demonstrated that we are not alone, and that when we stand together we have real power.

NIF will keep standing with Israelis promoting an alternative to the deportations, just as we’ve always stood with the Israelis who fight racism, who stand for human rights, and who insist that Israel can do better.