NIF Grantees and Critics Uncertain About Group’s New Guidelines

By Nathan Jeffay and Nathan Guttman

Published September 22, 2010, issue of October 01, 2010.
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Guidelines announced by the New Israel Fund detailing who can qualify for its grants have left the organization’s critics and grantees alike wondering exactly what they will mean.

The confusion was compounded by NIF’s claim that the principles reflected in the new guidelines are not, in fact, new at all. That hardly satisfied the right-wing groups who had campaigned against the funding organization.

“If the content is not new, it raises the question of why organizations that clearly violate them have received funds. And if they are new, the question is how they will be implemented,” said Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, one of NIF’s primary critics.

The guidelines, published on NIF’s website September 20, state that NIF will not give money to organizations that work against the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland — specifically, that any organization that “works to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” will be ineligible for NIF “grants or support.”

The decision to publish guidelines follows a high-profile eight-month campaign against the organization by the right-wing Israeli not-for-profit group Im Tirtzu, and comes three months after the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, called upon it to adopt “ethical guidelines.”

NIF has tried to play down the signifi-

cance of the new guidelines. CEO Daniel Sokatch said in an interview with the Forward that they are simply “a codification of long-held principles that NIF has always employed.”

But NGO Monitor was quick to claim victory and to dismiss such declarations as attempts to save face. According to Steinberg, NIF is “trying to deny responding to the pressure, but at the same time respond to it.” He said: “The fact that they felt a need to put on their website these points that were never articulated in this manner is a clear change and is a clear result of controversy.”

One of the targets of the campaigns by NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu was NIF grantee Mada al-Carmel, a think tank concerned, according to its website, with “the collective future of the Palestinians in Israel.” The group has issued a “declaration” in which it writes regarding the Holocaust, “We believe that exploiting this tragedy and its consequences in order to legitimize the right of the Jews to establish a state at the expense of the Palestinian people serves to belittle universal, human, and moral lessons to be learned from this catastrophic event, which concerns the whole of humanity.” The same document suggests a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state.”

A member of the group’s executive committee who was responsible for that document is Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of another NIF grantee organization, Adalah: The Legal Center For Arab Minority Rights In Israel, which has published its own document that was widely interpreted as a call for a binational state. It called for a change to the Jewish framework of Israel and for an overhaul of the “symbols of the state.”

Two other grantees that have come in for sharp criticism are Mossawa, an advocacy center promoting equality for Arab citizens of Israel, and the Coalition of Women for Peace. A “constitution” published by Mossawa claims that defining Israel as a Jewish state constitutes a “fundamental and ideological obstruction” to the cause of equality for Arabs. CWP supports the Global BDS Movement, BDS standing for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The Forward’s interview with Sokatch did not clarify how the new guidelines would be applied. While he insisted that the principles of the guidelines are “long held,” he also said they will not be applied “retroactively,” indicating that there are new considerations in play at NIF. He predicted that in the next annual fundraising cycle it will be “apparent how the new guidelines are playing out.” But he also commented, “I don’t foresee major massive changes, because it is a codification of the existing situation.”

Some key players within the controversial NIF grantee organizations are vowing to try and reverse the guidelines. “Adalah has a serious critique of NIF’s new funding guidelines,” the Arab organization’s media coordinator, Salah Mohsen, told the Forward. He said it plans to use “dialogue” with NIF to “voice our differences and change the guidelines.”

Others are using the new guidelines to assess whether they are still compatible with NIF. Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center, said that his organization in principle does not “apply for funding from organizations that disagree with us on our vision and don’t share values with us.” Farah said that if Mossawa reaches that conclusion about the NIF after a thorough review of its guidelines, it will readily end its financial relationship with the charity. It is “not just a question of funding, [but also] a question of values,” he said.

It is possible that the battle by NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu on funding these groups is far from over, as there appear to be at least two grounds on which the criticized grantees may argue that they actually meet the new funding guidelines.

One of the reasons that Farah wants time to review the guidelines before finalizing his response is that, according to his group’s interpretation, Jewish “self-determination” does not need to be exercised in the context of Israel as a specifically Jewish state. In fact, in its position paper, “An Equal Constitution for All,” Farah said, acceptance of “self-determination of Jews in Israel was Mossawa’s position.”

The other question mark hangs over organizations that support the BDS movement against Israel. The NIF, according to its website, deems boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns to be “unproductive, inflammatory and ineffective” and will not support organizations for which “BDS is a substantial element of their activities.” But the group’s website adds that NIF “will support organizations that conform to our grant requirements if their support for BDS is incidental or subsidiary to their significant programs.”

The new guidelines state that funding will not be given to organizations that “engage in activities at odds with the positions, principles, or vision of the New Israel Fund.” But it is unclear if this will change NIF’S tolerance of groups that support BDS as a position incidental to their primary purpose and activity.

The CWP, which is vocal in support of BDS, expressed cautious optimism that its relationship with the NIF will not change. “I do not think we [CWP’s funding] will be discontinued,” said the group’s media coordinator, Reem Hazan. “But we’ll have to wait and see.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com






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