Who is behind the campaign?
Ronn Torossian is a PR consultant whom Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has described as “the most disreputable flack in New York” representing “the lunatic-fringe of right-wing Israeli politics.” Not only does he have an ax to grind with us, he has been writing articles, like this one “Abe Foxman & the ADL: Taking Sides Against Israel,” lambasting other mainstream Jewish groups. Gawker has a collection of stories covering his unethical — and potentially illegal — tactics.
Pamela Geller, characterized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the anti-Muslim movement’s “most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” is infamous for the vicious transit ads her organization placed on subway systems in big cities. These ads are so virulent that they run with disclaimers from the transit authorities. The American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League were among the first organizations to condemn Geller, and an ADL report (PDF) on her notes that she “routinely attacks organizations that oppose her agenda and views, often employing inappropriate Holocaust terminology and imagery to deride mainstream Jewish civil rights organizations.”
What do the misrepresentations look like?
It would take too long to provide a point-by-point rebuttal of every baseless charge leveled against NIF by Torossian and Geller. But an examination of a few specific examples can give you a taste of their tactics.
Example 1). NIF has a crystal-clear, publicly available, policy regarding BDS: We will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.
Other times, they employ a more tortured logic. Check out this article in which Torossian quotes the husband of our CEO in Israel saying that “I buy Israeli products every day and do my best not to buy Israeli products from the Occupied Territories. I don’t see why you, living outside Israel, shouldn’t have the same choice.”
Read that quote again. It doesn’t endorse BDS. Rather, it encourages the purchase of Israeli products while drawing a distinction between what’s produced in Israel and in West Bank settlements.
Example 2). An article by Torossian implies that an attorney who advises a number of our Israeli grantees tried to prevent families of terror victims from receiving compensation in a civil action filed in a New York court.
The “damning” evidence? The Israeli attorney, Michael Sfard, testified as an expert witness in the trial.
Of course, there is no mention of the content of Sfard’s actual testimony – in which he says that suicide bombings should be considered “crimes against humanity.” Sfard also argues that those who are responsible for these crimes should both be punished and be forced to pay compensation.
This is typical. The very involvement of somebody, somehow linked with NIF, in a controversial case is pumped up as some sort of scandal, while the unimpeachable content of his involvement is never examined.
Example 3). This same article claims that NIF “recently petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf [sic] terrorists and their families” and that “Hamoked, a grantee of the New Israel Fund, worked for terrorists.”
The real story behind this twisted tale is quite different. It is about Israel’s civil rights champions pressing for policies that better respect individual rights.
Although there was no “NIF petition,” our grantee, Hamoked, did file a petition before an Israel court last year seeking to prevent the police from demolishing the home of the widow and orphans of a terrorist.
Clearly, punishing the family of a dead man for the crimes of the deceased is an act of collective punishment that violates civil rights. When this punishment is applied only to the families of Palestinian terrorists, but never to the families of Jewish terrorists, it is also discriminatory.
So the “charge” against NIF boils down to this: A group we fund asked an Israeli court to stop a policy of collective punishment that was being implemented in a discriminatory manner. People of goodwill can disagree about what the correct policy is. Some might argue that demolishing homes of deceased terrorists creates a deterrent effect that justifies the harm to civil liberties. But wherever one comes out on that question, Israel is clearly a better place because Israel’s civil rights champions are pressing this debate.
Where is this going?
We can only speculate as to this campaign’s ultimate goals. They might believe that they can “shame” donors from supporting NIF (judging from the response of our supporters so far, that would be a mistaken assumption). They seem to be trying to drive a wedge between NIF and the rest of the mainstream organized Jewish community. Or perhaps they’re just trying to placate a major funder of their own who opposes NIF’s support of liberal values in Israel.
For now, the tactics that Geller and Torossian have employed focus on publishing blog posts and op-ed articles. They have also announced their intention to start a campaign on bus ads.
No matter what they do, NIF will not allow ourselves to be distracted from our work supporting Israeli champions of liberal democratic values.