Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Israel Fund Under Attack

In the previous post, TBE member Jan Gaines commented on the alleged role of the New Israel Fund in the infamous Goldstone report, reflecting a growing demonization of the NIF in Israel. Like Jan, I began supporting the NIF many years ago, primarily because it, unlike UJA or any other Israel support agency here in the US, took an active role in promoting greater acceptance of the non Orthodox religious streams. This support has been most important recently, in light of the arrests and detentions of the Women of the Wall. Here is the NIF's response to recent accusations, taken from it's website. Unlike Jan, I still actively support the efforts of the NIF, and I reject the demonization that has taken place. Goldstone was horrible - but the basic freedoms that make Israel such a vibrant democracy, including freedom of speech, are among Israel's most precious attributes, to be preserved at all costs. This treatment reeks of the atmosphere that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin.

Take a look at the Oscar nominations for recent Israeli films and you'll see the best of what a self-critical society can accomplish when it turns the lens on itself. Take a look at the bestselling book "Start-Up Nation" and you'll see that a key to Israel's economic success is the vibrant grass-roots debate that goes on everywhere, even within the ranks of the army. It's part of the culture - thank God, for Jews to be skeptical of those in power, even in their own state. All the more so when war is so prevalent. I pray that such vibrant dialogue continues to strengthen our Jewish homeland, protecting it from all foes, including the fear of freedom.

Meanwhile, the demonization of Israel is not nearly as bad in this country as Jan is perceiving from Netanya. Israeli Ambassador Oren was heckled at the University of California-Irvine. Where's the news there? Is this the first time anyone at Cal has heckled someone? That's not demonization on a mass scale. I heard Oren speak at Brown just a couple of months ago and he was treated with the utmost courtesy on one of the most liberal campuses in the country. Brown has an Israeli film festival this week. I am in contact with TBE students all over the country and am hearing nothing about a gathering storm of hatred of Israel. Europe might indeed be another story, but the reports of an anti-Semitic frenzy on US campuses are vastly exaggerated.

We Won the Battle...
But the war for democratic values in Israel will go on.

Yesterday, the leadership of the Kadima party decided not to support a proposed Committee of Parliamentary Inquiry into the New Israel Fund and the human rights organizations it supports. The proposed inquiry, initiated by a Kadima MK, was in response to a vicious campaign launched against NIF two weeks ago by a new right-wing group, attempting to blame Israel’s human rights community for the Goldstone report on Gaza. The immediate threat of a Knesset inquiry has abated for now.

Because of the outcry of thousands of people of conscience like you, and hundreds of Israeli and American Jewish leaders, journalists, academics and activists across the political spectrum, extremists in the Knesset will not at this time hold NIF and democratic values hostage to a frightening ideological agenda. But those in Israel and elsewhere who equate the work of human rights groups, the monitoring, reporting and self-examination so critical to the functioning of a democracy, with treason will not stop their efforts to shut us up and shut us down.

So we, too, cannot stop fighting.

The New Israel Fund has never invested resources in “building its brand” or PR for the sake of PR. Every dollar we raise that is not spent on basic operations goes towards building a better Israel, in direct or indirect investments in grassroots social change. But the days of being the strong, silent type are over.

In the coming days and weeks, we will work with you, our friends and supporters, and with the organizations we support in Israel to take a positive stand on behalf of human rights and social justice. In Israel and in the U.S., in Canada and the UK, we will take every step to emphasize the vision of Israel founders, the Jewish and universal values that must underlie a democratic state, and the real reasons that Israel can refer to itself as the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

Please, continue and increase your support. Be ready to contact the Prime Minister and Ambassador Oren. Involve your friends and families, your temples, youth groups and other progressive organizations. If ever there was a time to take a stand for the Israel we can be proud of, that time is now.

Your help last week made a huge difference. Stand by to speak out again.

Daniel Sokatch
Chief Executive Officer

And here is more background from the initial letter by Sokatch:

Several weeks ago Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of longtime NIF grantee the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement, was hauled into a police station, fingerprinted and interrogated for her prayer sessions at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. A week later, it was the arrest of Hagai El-Ad, the CEO of NIF’s flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), during a peaceful demonstration in East Jerusalem that ACRI was monitoring to protect freedom of speech.

Now it is us.

A number of the civil and human rights organizations that are funded and supported by NIF have written challenging, thoughtful criticisms of how the Israeli military behaved during Gaza Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. The most recent attacks on NIF claim that if only we didn’t exist, if only we didn’t support these organizations in their work, Goldstone would not have had the evidence needed to come to the conclusions presented in his report.

NIF has been attacked before for our role as the lead funder of social justice and human rights in Israel. We continue to be a lightning rod for those who insist that Israel is always right. But as our board member and former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said at last Sunday’s Town Hall Meeting, perhaps many years ago the existential threats to Israel’s continued existence warranted disregard for its flaws for the sake of survival, but no longer. Today, the question is not whether Israel survives, but what kind of Israel survives. As Professor Chazan said that day, the question is not whether Israel is always right or always wrong but what we will do to solve the very real problems Israel has.

NIF stands for the efforts of thousands of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who are dedicated to working towards the Israel they know to be possible; one which upholds the dignity of all of its people.

The ugly language and personal threats against NIF and our President are all too reminiscent of the atmosphere of incitement and hatred that preceded the Rabin assassination. Sadly, these vicious attacks are being launched against the very organizations that protect Israel and its international reputation as a vibrant democracy.

The human rights organizations that examined and reported on human rights concerns during and after the Gaza operation were the first to declare that the Israeli government must launch an independent inquiry into the events of Gaza. They were acting out of a profound sense of patriotism and love of Israel. They are not monolithic and differ on many issues, including the conclusions of the Goldstone report.

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