Brian Lurie Takes Aim at Occupation

New Israel Fund Chief Admits Being 'Rebel' at Heart

Rebel With a Cause: Rabbi Brian Lurie says the New Israel Fund is anchored in Jewish values.
haaretz
Rebel With a Cause: Rabbi Brian Lurie says the New Israel Fund is anchored in Jewish values.

By Chemi Shalev (Haaretz)

Published August 04, 2012.
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Are you planning to institute changes in criteria for funding or a review of the organizations that are already receiving funding to make sure they meet your criteria?

“BDS is already in there. There’s not even a scintilla of doubt. If Adalah came out tomorrow in favor of BDS, they’d be off our list. We’d stop funding them. No question. We are now engaged in a fast-track strategic planning process about the number of agencies we fund and the way we go about our business and how to make us more holistic. We have a number of foundations that have been funding Arab projects that will soon stop their funding - not just the Ford Foundation, but Charles Bronfman, the Goldman Foundation, the Kahanoff Foundation and others. As the major funder in this area of Israeli Arab rights, we have to take a hard look at how we can do things better.”

‘Great darkness’

Some NIF-funded groups testified before the Goldstone Commission [which investigated Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-09]. Looking back, would you find fault with that?

“Look, I’m like the typical Israeli on this issue. I am really uncomfortable with touching the Israel Defense Forces, because I know the neighborhood that Israel lives in. I know what keeps us alive, and right now it’s not NIF - it’s the IDF. I have that sensitivity. I’m like most Israelis who bristle at that. But on the other hand, those organizations that testified were thanked by the IDF, because they did something that the army couldn’t do as far as the investigation was concerned. So even though I am sensitive, I can’t say this isn’t important.” But some Diaspora Jews think the most important challenge facing Israel right now is delegitimization, and that some of these groups that are NIF-funded are providing fodder for the delegitimizers.

“But if you sat down with the leadership - take B’Tselem [the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories], for example. They are Zionist. They won’t say so out loud, perhaps, but they are committed to Israel, totally. They play a role of self-criticism that any democratic society needs to have. You need sensitivity. You need to be careful, but you can’t cut it off either.

Not everyone agrees with you.

“I know that, and I understand and empathize with some of the criticism. As for the Im Tirtzu types - I don’t want to call them right wing because in a sense they are almost not Zionist - for these ultra-nationalists, you’re all in or you’re all out. It’s all black and white, and there is no gray. I find that kind of narrow, thoughtless nationalism to be very dangerous for Israel’s survival, and I will say that to them publicly.”


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