New Israel Fund Considering Red Lines

Setting Limits: Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund.
SAN FRANCISCO JEwISH FEdERATION
Setting Limits: Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund.

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 18, 2010, issue of August 27, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The New Israel Fund, the target of attacks by right-wing organizations accusing it of supporting anti-Zionist groups, is discussing the possibility of specifying in its guidelines that grants will be given only to groups that accept the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

The discussions have been taking place in recent months in Israel and in the United States, where NIF’s headquarters are located and most of the group’s donors reside.

Initially, the discussions were set as a regular review of funding practices as part of structural changes the fund has experienced this year, with the appointment of new executive directors in the United States and in Israel.

But according to three sources who have either seen the new proposed guidelines or were briefed on their content, the debate has also touched on the issue of defining the not-for-profit organizations that are eligible for receiving NIF grants. Board members and major donors are grappling with whether to require that grantees accept the idea of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus agreeing to the principle of Israel as a Jewish state.

The New Israel Fund would not comment on the proposed guidelines, stating that the process has not yet been completed. Staff and board members were also instructed not to discuss the issue publicly.

Currently, NIF is funding some groups that do not necessarily accept the two-state idea or the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. One such group that has been mentioned by Israeli critics is Mada al-Carmel, an Arab-Israeli social research center in Haifa that has published papers questioning the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

NIF has yet to finalize the discussion on revised funding guidelines, or to adopt any resolution regarding the mention of accepting Israel as a Jewish state as a criteria for funding. According to individuals who are involved in the process, one formulation being discussed is recognizing Israel as the “homeland” of the Jewish people — a description that falls short of the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” but would avoid alienating Israeli-Arab not-for-profits that are on NIF’s grant list.

Established in 1979, NIF is the largest contributor to civil society causes and progressive programs in Israel. It provides grants to Jewish and Arab human rights groups, as well as support for non-Orthodox religious denominations in Israel, battered women’s shelters, and absorption of Ethiopian Jews and many other not-for-profits.

Attacks against NIF began in late January, when an Israeli group, Im Tirtzu, issued a report claiming that most of the information used by the Goldstone Report, which examined Israel’s conduct during the Gaza military campaign, was obtained from nongovernmental organizations supported by NIF. A barrage of accusations against NIF’s grant-making policy followed, led by the Jerusalem-based group NGO Monitor and gaining wide coverage in the pages of Ma’ariv, one of Israel’s leading dailies.

The criticism also set off intense scrutiny by Israeli lawmakers from the right that led to the passage on August 16 of controversial legislation requiring not-for-profits to report donations from foreign governments. The bill was approved on its first reading, and its prospects are uncertain.

But attacks on NIF also resulted in a reported increase in the group’s donor base and did not have a negative impact on its fundraising. Still, some of NIF’S leadership felt that there was a need to clarify the group’s grant-making policy and to touch on the thorny issue of proving funds to non-Zionist groups.

Peter Edelman, a former president of the NIF board, said in a brief interview with the Forward that revising the guidelines was “not necessarily in response” to criticism. Edelman added, however, that “when there is unjust criticism, then you want to be as clear as possible about the issues.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com






Find us on Facebook!
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.