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The New Israel Fund Needs To Set Red Lines

The tenor of the recent debate over the New Israel Fund should concern anyone who cares about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

In responding to campus group Im Tirtzu’s claims that NIF funds most of the Israeli NGOs that were used as sources for the Goldstone Report, NIF and its supporters have painted a false picture depicting Israeli democracy as being in grave danger. NIF’s defenders have variously argued that Israel is facing a wave of “McCarthyism,” “repression of dissent” and even “incitement.”

On the other side of the debate, some of NIF’s critics have also engaged in distortion. For instance, it is absurd to suggest that NIF is somehow directly responsible for the Goldstone Report. Furthermore, personal attacks on NIF’s president, Naomi Chazan, are not only in terrible taste, they do nothing to advance the type of discussion we should be having about NIF and its grantees.

To be sure, many of NIF’s grantees perform a valuable service to Israeli society. NIF donors can feel rightly proud of the work that NIF-funded organizations do in furthering causes such as immigrant rights, environmental protection and religious pluralism. But NIF also funds highly problematic groups in Israel, some of which unapologetically promote the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state. Indeed, some of these groups are among the grantees that receive the largest sums of money from NIF — a fact about which many NIF donors are likely unaware.

Adalah, which was granted $510,150 by NIF in 2008, had the previous year drafted a “Democratic Constitution” that calls for the erasure of Israel’s Jewish character. It calls for implementing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs, while doing away with Israel’s Law of Return for Jews. More recently, Adalah’s staffers were listed as “principal contributors” to a pseudo-academic study which concludes that Israel’s “occupation of [Palestinian] territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.”

Another NIF grantee, Mada al-Carmel (which was allocated $200,000 in 2008) claimed in a recent editorial in its online journal that there is “a Palestinian consensus within the Green Line against accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State” and that “[t]he ethnic state is a recipe for continued injustice.” A November 2009 conference that Mada al-Carmel co-sponsored with two other NIF grantees was publicized with an inflammatory poster showing an Israeli soldier reaching suggestively toward the chest of a Palestinian woman with the caption: “Her husband needs a permit to touch her. The occupation penetrates her life everyday.” Mada al-Carmel also was behind the 2007 “Haifa Declaration,” which claims that Israel’s “policies of subjugation and oppression” are “in excess of those of the apartheid regime in South Africa” and accuses Israel of “exploiting” the tragedy of the Holocaust to “legitimize the right of the Jews to establish a state at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Anticipating criticism of some of the most controversial grantees, Daniel Sokatch, NIF’s U.S.-based CEO, wrote in The Jerusalem Report: “We don’t support everything these organizations say, but we strongly support their right to say it.” I also support “their right to say it.” Israel is a democracy, after all. But this is not the same as helping them “say it” with grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

If it is to rescue its reputation, NIF urgently needs to establish red lines to determine which groups are deserving of their allocations. Funding ought to be withheld from organizations that engage in activities to advance the “Durban strategy” of isolating Israel internationally: divestment campaigns; demonization and delegitimization (including using expressions such as “apartheid” and “war crimes” and misusing international law to bludgeon Israel); “lawfare” — legal threats against Israeli officials in courts of other countries; and anti-Zionism — opposition to defining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Such guidelines should be self-evident. Since they apparently are not, we must encourage NIF to develop such red lines through informed, civil debate, and to rethink support for groups that do not comply. NIF donors and the Israeli public have a right to expect an honest investigation and evaluation from an organization whose budget (NIF granted more than $20 million to Israeli NGOs in 2008) affords it significant leverage in the fraught environment of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Debating the issue of overseas Jewish funding of groups that use their inflated budgets and influence to level intense, inaccurate and harmful charges against Israel is entirely appropriate. Frankly, such a debate is overdue. Attempting to delegitimize this conversation before it even starts is not good for Israel. Nor is it ultimately good for the New Israel Fund.

Diane Meskin is a researcher at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem.

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