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NIF Statement: Wikileaks on Anti-Democratic Legislation

6 September 2011

Washington, DC: In response to the Wikileaks cable recounting a February 2010 discussion about pending anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, the New Israel Fund issued the following statement:

Last week’s dump of Wikileaks data included a cable from an officer at the American embassy in Tel Aviv demonstrating the embassy’s concern about legislation then pending in the Knesset, designed to defund and penalize progressive civil society organizations in Israel. It comes as no surprise to us that in February 2010, when NIF was itself first attacked and when the wave of anti-democratic legislation began moving through the Knesset, the American government was keeping a close and concerned eye on these negative trends in Israel.

The cable quotes the personal views of Hedva Radanovitz, then Grants Director at NIF. Ms. Radanovitz is no longer an employee of the New Israel Fund; she left her position almost a year ago. Her comments, as reported by Wikileaks, are her personal views. They do not reflect the policies or positions of the New Israel Fund. We valued Hedva’s contribution to NIF, but it also true that her viewpoints diverged from those of the organization, and her resignation was largely due to her disagreement with the positions and direction of NIF.

The New Israel Fund has always supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; our first principle states that we are dedicated to the vision of the State of Israel as the sovereign expression of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people, and as a democracy dedicated to the full equality of all its citizens and communities.

We also believe the context of the cable demonstrates just how far our opponents are willing to go, and what they are willing to sacrifice, to achieve their goal of shutting down dissenting voices in Israel. NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg is quoted as being willing to feed into the international rhetoric delegitimizing Israel in order to reduce the “power” of Israel’s human rights NGOs, as well as dismissing the impact of the legislation, which he admits specifically targets only human rights NGOs, on freedom of speech. He appeared to reject the applicability of the U.S. government’s Guiding Principles for Non-Governmental Organizations, provided then to Mr. Steinberg, especially since the legislation he championed ran counter to the U.S. Principles pertaining to financial support and freedom to impart information and ideas.

New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch said: “The Wikileaks cable demonstrates the way in which the ultra-nationalist agenda attempts to destroy the legitimate work of the human rights community. It also shows that the American government is justifiably concerned about that issue.”

“It’s certainly understandable that back in February 2010, our former employee Hedva Radanovitz was not optimistic about Israeli support for human rights and democracy. That was the month that NIF itself first came under vicious attack, and the bill to penalize progressive civil society that’s under discussion in the Wikileaks cable was just the tip of the iceberg in attempts to de-democratize Israel. But today it is obvious that there is certainly much support in Israel for the vision of a fair and just society that is NIF’s most important core value. Saturday night, 450,000 people demonstrated for the Israel that we at the New Israel Fund support. I firmly believe that, in despairing of support for progressive values among Israelis, Hedva was wrong.”

“I also believe more firmly than ever in the vision of Israel put forth by its Declaration of Independence. I know that the New Israel Fund’s dedication to an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic could not be clearer. NIF is and always has been a big-tent organization – our staff, grantees and volunteer leadership reflect the gamut of views from the center to the left, fiercely debated in Israel and elsewhere. But our principles are firm. Nothing in the Wikileaks cable reflects an organizational agenda or principles that differ from our repeated public statements and official mission – that of building an Israel that is just, inclusive, caring and representative of the best of Jewish and universal values.”

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