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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Since then, in 33 years of activity, NIF has raised over $300 million to fund scores of organizations and nonprofits in Israel that deal with social welfare, single mothers, Israeli Arabs, Ethiopian women, religious pluralism and a host of other causes. Throughout its existence, the NIF has been criticized from time to time for funding “anti-Zionist” groups, but nothing comes even close to the virulent campaign unleashed against the NIF in 2010 by Im Tirtzu, which infamously featured a poster of Naomi Chazan with a horn attached to her forehead. The daughter of former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Avraham Harman, Chazan was a well-respected political scientist, author and deputy speaker of the Knesset prior to her time at the NIF.

The NIF, which had hitherto been operating in Israel away from the limelight and was largely unknown to most Israelis, was suddenly engulfed by notoriety, painted as a sort of fifth columnist which, under the guise of fighting poverty and promoting social needs, was actually hell-bent on undermining the Jewish and Zionist foundations of Israel.

But Lurie is undeterred by the NIF’s notoriety. On the contrary, he plans to leverage it to the organization’s advantage. “Two and a half years ago, not many people had heard of the NIF, and now because of Im Tirtzu the NIF has become famous, or infamous, one way or the other. The challenge now is leadership. Once you are put in this position, you can either duck and go back to ‘I don’t want to be involved,’ or you can say, ‘All right: We have to lead.’ I believe the moment now is one of leadership.”

Lurie does not divulge all of his plans for the NIF, but one element that stands out is that he seeks to expand its operations among what he calls “Tel-Avivniks.” Lurie wants to enlist the Tel Aviv cultural and economic elites in the NIF campaign against poverty and discrimination, and on behalf of pluralism and democracy. “I don’t think it’s a good thing that both the NIF and its operating arm, Shatil, are in Jerusalem, while the group that is probably closest to us in values is in Tel Aviv. I think we have to have serious operations in Tel Aviv. We have to get close to the business community, and the cultural community, and the leadership of the country. And I’m sure they will understand us very clearly as a result of this kind of interaction.”

‘Hot’ models

Lurie’s model is the New York philanthropy group Robin Hood Foundation, in which his son Daniel worked before returning to San Francisco to set up a similar organization called Tipping Point. Both organizations, lauded by philanthropy professionals and endorsed by public figures and celebrities, have raised tens of millions of dollars and run their organizations in an efficient, business-like manner - in what Fortune magazine describes as “venture philanthropy.” Lurie hopes to emulate a key element of their success by recruiting top financial consultants, high-tech companies and legal firms to help in managing the NIF and its associated agencies.


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