A right-wing Israeli activist group is waging a multi-pronged public campaign to discredit the New Israel Fund (NIF), which supports human-rights groups in Israel.
The activist group, Im Tirtzu (“If you will it” — from Theodor Herzl’s epigram “If you will it, it is no dream”), made the Friday (January 29) front page of Maariv, Israel’s second-largest daily. In a three-page article in its tabloid weekend supplement, Maariv reports on the group’s new 112-page study claiming that NIF-funded organizations were a major source of damaging information in the Goldstone Report, the United Nations fact-finding mission on last year’s Gaza conflict. The study focuses on footnotes in the Goldstone Report, calculating the percentage of negative testimony on Israel that is sourced to NIF grantees.
According to the Maariv story (Hebrew only), touted with a blaring front-page headline reading “The ‘New Fund’ and the Lie Industry,” Im Tirtzu — which describes itself as “centrist” — is planning an ongoing campaign that will include outdoor signs depicting NIF president Naomi Chazan, a political scientist and former Knesset deputy speaker, with a horn protruding from her forehead (a play on the Hebrew word keren, which means both “horn” and “fund”).
At the end of the lengthy Maariv story, reporter Ben Caspit writes briefly that the study is “the latest example” in a “wave of demonization flooding the media” in Israel against human-rights organizations, which he says “do not work against Israel” and “are an integral part of a democratic state” with “an important role as watchdogs” protecting “universal rights.”
The group kicked off its public campaign Saturday night with a demonstration outside Chazan’s home by protesters reportedly dressed as Hamas members carrying signs “thanking” Chazan and the NIF. An announcement on its Hebrew Web site calls for a demonstration against the New Israel Fund on Monday morning February 1 outside the Herzliya Conference, an annual conference of world leaders on Middle East security.
The English Web site makes no mention at all of the NIF or the Im Tirtzu campaign against it.
In response to the Im Tirtzu study, according to a Maariv follow-up story on Sunday, the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee will hold hearings in the near future on the activities of NIF grantees, following a request by Kadima lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet security service, to committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi. The story quotes Hasson saying, “We have to investigate the matter of activity by groups that promote arrest warrants against IDF officers and contribute to activities that support Hamas.”
The Im Tirtzu study combed through the 1,223 footnotes in the Goldstone Report — the United Nations fact-finding mission on last year’s Gaza conflict — and found that 191 footnotes referred to publications or testimony by 16 NIF-funded organizations. In all, the study calculates that 92% of footnotes sourcing negative information to Israeli sources come from the 16 NIF grantees, although the Maariv story noted several errors in the report, including one organization on the Im Tirtzu list that is not an NIF grantee.
In addition to the role of NIF grantees in the Goldstone Report, the study describes several partnership programs that link the NIF with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, including a joint program with the Ministry of Culture and Sport to discourage fan violence at sports events and a program with the Jewish Agency to work with Ethiopian immigrant parents living in absorption centers. According to a summary on the Im Tirtzu Hebrew Web site, “this positive activity by the Fund grants it public legitimization for its activity.”
The report also details the affiliations of Judge Richard Goldstone, the head of the U.N. fact-finding commission, “with organizations that have spoken out in the past against the policies of the state of Israel.” They include Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and the International Center for Transitional Justice. Not mentioned: Goldstone’s honorary life membership on the board of governors of Hebrew University and his seven-year term, ending in 2004, as president of World ORT.
Im Tirtzu describes itself on its English-language Web site as “a centrist extra-parliamentary movement that strives to strengthen the values of Zionism in Israel and to renew and reinstate Zionist discourse,” and is “committed to leading and advancing a second Zionist revolution on all levels of the Israeli public discourse.” It claims it is “the only movement that engages in public advocacy on behalf of the State of Israel and of Zionism on Israeli campuses,” with a reported two to four key activists and a few dozen supporters on each of nine campuses.
In addition to lectures and workshops, it describes its activities as including on-campus protest demonstrations against on-campus lectures by critics of Israel and several rallies to support Israeli troops at Na’alin, a West Bank village where weekly protests against the security fence have led to the deaths of four Palestinian youths and a British activist from troops’ bullets and tear-gas canisters.
A “Help Us” page on its Web site directs would-be contributors to make earmarked tax-free American charitable donations through the veteran New York-based Central Fund of Israel, whose activity consists mainly of channeling funds to West Bank settlements and settler groups for various purposes, including security.
The English home page includes a link to a Haaretz article last June that profiles the organization at length, quoting critics who describe it “sowing hatred, factionalism and violence,” “terrorizing Arab students and lecturers,” its goal “to frighten and intimidate everyone who thinks differently from or dares to criticize them.”
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).