Amid Controversy Over New Israel Fund, Jerusalem Post Drops Group’s Head as Columnist

By Jonathan Lis (Haaretz)

Published February 05, 2010.
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The broadside campaign by the Im Tirtzu movement against the New Israel Fund caught its president, Professor Naomi Chazan, in New York, where she traveled to chair a meeting of the fund’s board of trustees, scheduled months in advance.

“I’ve seen everything,” she said in a phone interview this week of the posters released by the movement depicting her with a horn emerging from her forehead and labeling her Naomi Goldstone Chazan. “I don’t know why they chose me — I can think of plenty of human rights supporters they could pick on. But I’m ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy. No doubt about it.”

“They’re using me to attack in the most blatant way the basic principles of democracy and the values of the Declaration of Independence: Values of equality, tolerance, social justice and freedom of speech,” she added.

On Thursday, Chazan received an e-mail from Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz, informing her the newspaper would cease publishing her column.

Chazan had provided the daily with one of its few leftist voices in recent years. Horovitz declined to respond to questions from Haaretz on Thursday night.

Also yesterday, some of the organizations supported by NIF released their own ads in response, demanding an independent Israeli investigation of Operation Cast Lead. “We have to make an honest inquiry: What happened in Cast Lead, who is responsible and how can we avoid hurting innocent civilians in the future,” read one ad.

Im Tirtzu claimed in a feature published in the Hebrew daily Maariv last Friday that it found that 92 percent of negative references to the IDF in the Goldstone report originating with Israeli sources came from organizations sponsored by NIF. The fund’s grantees include Adalah, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din and the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights.

Following the feature, Im Tirtzu launched an explicit campaign against the fund. Chazan herself says there is no direct correlation between the positions of the fund and those of the grantees. “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations say, but we support their right to say it. Some organization’s only sin was signing a call to set up an independent committee of inquiry,” she said. “This is an attack against organizations that actually differ in their opinions about Goldstone. The only thing that unites them is a demand for an independent investigation, and this is totally mainstream. Even Dan Meridor called for such an investigation.”

Chazan calls the Im Tirtzu research and the public scandal it provoked as “gagging.” Neither does she spare the methodology of the report itself. “As a politics professor, I know how to read reports. They concealed all the important data. They didn’t say, for instance, that many of the quotes come from IDF officers or even directly from Ehud Olmert. The whole thing seems, to put it mildly, methodologically poor and not worthy of comment. I imagine that the actual Goldstone researchers, in most cases, did not need to do anything more than go to any Israeli news site and all the information was there.”

Meanwhile, the storm provoked by the campaign has reached the Knesset. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee rushed to set up a subcommittee to look into how foreign foundations sponsor Israeli organizations. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) announced he was working to reach a wide consensus on setting up a parliamentary inquiry commission to probe the conduct of NIF and its grantees, while a number of other MKs issued statements supporting the fund and freedom of speech in Israel.

“The Knesset is trying to gag the debate and fan incitement,” said Chazan. “This isn’t freedom of speech, this is incitement. It’s an attempt to eradicate legitimate protest and opposition. And without opposition, there is no democracy.”

Im Tirtzu is trying to cast itself as a centrist movement, refusing to explicitly state an alliance to any party, Left or Right. However, a Haaretz probe found that the influencial forces behind the movement make no secret of their rightist political loyalties. Financially, Im Tirtzu is supported by a foundation that has contributed to radical right-wing organizations such as the Women in Green; Pastor John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) which contributed to Im Tirtzu, has been implicated in the past by a number of anti-Semitic statements.

Ideologically, the movement’s chairman Ronen Shoval used to be spokesman of the “Orange Cell,” a student chapter at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that fought against the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and supported the settlement project. Shoval was even honored for his efforts with a citation from the evicted settlement block of Gush Katif.

The main channel for donations to Im Tirtzu is the Central Fund of Israel. In addition to Women in Green and Im Tirtzu, it supports Honenu, an organization sponsoring legal defense to radical right-wing activists in trouble with the law. Honenu boasts of financially supporting the families of the Bat Ayin underground, convicted for trying to bomb a girls’ school in East Jerusalem in 2002; of Ami Popper, who shot four Palestinian laborers during the first intifada; Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox man who stabbed participants in a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem in 2005; and Haggai Amir, brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir. Im Tirtzu’s Web site asks donations to be sent through the American foundation.

Shoval maintained yesterday that the American foundation’s services were used for technical reasons only. “We’re a small organization, and a small organizations needs a tax break for the donations it gets,” he said yesterday. “CFI is an organization that sends money to scores, if not hundreds, of Israeli organizations, left and right. Donations to it are tax deductable, and this is the only reason why we work with them. I am not familiar with their activities and I haven’t studied their organization in depth.”

Meanwhile, the Hebrew news Web site Walla! revealed this week that one of the donors to Im Tirtzu is CUFI, Christians United for Israel, led by evangelist preacher John Hagee. CUFI’s Web site stated it had given Im Tirtzu $100,000.

Hagee achieved notoriety in 2008, when saying that Hitler carried out the will of God, to return the Jews to Israel in accordance with the biblical promise. Then-presidential candidate John McCain responded by renouncing Hagee’s support. Walla! said that in one of his books, Hagee also claimed that Hitler was half-Jewish, a descendant of Jacob’s brother Esau. He added that the Holocaust took place because the Jews rebelled and renounced the true God. Hagee claimed the Jews’ rebelliousness was the reason for anti-Semitism and the persecutions they suffered through the years.

Shoval, however, is not detered by his donor’s problematic image. “Hagee also donates to Nefesh B’Nefesh, to Rabbi Grossman, to a hospital in Ashkelon and a college in Netanya,” he said. He gives to scores of important organizations in Israeli society, and none of these are suspected as right-wing. Don’t suspect us, either - we’re not financially well-off enough to say no to money, even if the source doesn’t perfectly match my personal world view.”

At 29, Shoval is the living spirit behind the organization. He had been a spokesman for Orange Cell, winning a citation from Gush Katif, and is listed as number 83 in Habayit Hayehudi’s Knesset elections slate. Yesterday, however, he voiced reservations from his political past. “I reject the orange groups. I was young. My opinions changed. I changed,” he said.

He also denied running on the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset ticket. “They put my name there without my permission. It was done by a public relations company they hired. I didn’t even vote for them,” said Shoval. “Im Tirtzu is not a right-wing movement, I don’t see myself as a right-wing person, and it’s important for me this is said.”

Since its launch, the movement carried out tours of Hebron, and its members published articles on such issues as the Nakba mourning prohibition bill and military service. During Operation Cast Lead, hundreds of members participated in a demonstration in support of the IDF, while more recently the movement made news by demanding that Tel Aviv University fires Dr. Anat Matar, who they alleged was behind the circulation of a portrait of a soldier allegedly suspected of murdering Bil’in activist Bassem Abu Rahma. They also protested against Sapir College lecturer Nizar Hassan, who ejected a student in military uniform from his classroom.

Shoval himself published a large number of articles, all carrying explicitly rightist views. But in an interview to the Arutz Sheva Web site, he said that his movement was different from the anti-disengagement one because they had learned the lessons. “Our criteria of success are how many secular activists did we recruit, and have we penetrated mass media, where we can convince the unconvinced, not preach to the choir,” he told the interviewer.

In an op-ed published in Haaretz, Shoval, who had also been a key figure in the reservists’ protest in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, said the soldiers were mistaken to avoid political statements. “The personal discourse used by us reservists, who tried to avoid expressing political opinions, left the people of Israel caught in a dangerous conception that remains unchanged,” he wrote. Ideas like the realignment plan, the Geneva Initiative and the Saudi initiative maintain the same flawed reasoning. The root of the problem, which remains unchanged, is the prevalent conception of the political, state and defense establishment, which says you can defend Gush Dan without the protective wall of Judea and Samaria.”

In another article, written after the stroke suffered by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, Shoval wrote: “You were the worse prime minister. I’m hopeful you will recover quickly and regain leadership of Kadima, so that the Right can defeat you in democratic elections and we can restore to Israel the public standards it deserves.”

But yesterday he sought to dissociate himself from any party alliances. “We have decided that the movement does not work on the Judea and Samaria issue. We think the demographic issue needs to be resolved, and this should be done with defensible borders. In this aspect, we are a classic centrist movement close to Labor, Kadima and Likud.”

“The debate is not about left or right,” said Shoval. “This was the old debate. The new debate is between Zionists and non-Zionists. Some Zionists are leftists, and some rightists are not Zionist, like those who seek to make Israel a theocracy.”

“If your story will end up presenting us like a right-wing movement, you blew it,” he added.

Dimi Reider contributed to this report.






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