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Posts

Is the New Israel Fund caving in under pressure?

forward

New Israel Fund Considering Red Lines

Nathan Guttman, 18 August 18 2010, issue of August 27, 2010

[See two comment pieces on these developments by Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam]


Washington — The New Israel Fund, the target of attacks by right-wing organizations accusing it of supporting anti-Zionist groups, is discussing the possibility of specifying in its guidelines that grants will be given only to groups that accept the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

The discussions have been taking place in recent months in Israel and in the United States, where NIF’s headquarters are located and most of the group’s donors reside.

Initially, the discussions were set as a regular review of funding practices as part of structural changes the fund has experienced this year, with the appointment of new executive directors in the United States and in Israel.

But according to three sources who have either seen the new proposed guidelines or were briefed on their content, the debate has also touched on the issue of defining the not-for-profit organizations that are eligible for receiving NIF grants. Board members and major donors are grappling with whether to require that grantees accept the idea of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus agreeing to the principle of Israel as a Jewish state.

The New Israel Fund would not comment on the proposed guidelines, stating that the process has not yet been completed. Staff and board members were also instructed not to discuss the issue publicly.

Currently, NIF is funding some groups that do not necessarily accept the two-state idea or the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. One such group that has been mentioned by Israeli critics is Mada al-Carmel, an Arab-Israeli social research center in Haifa that has published papers questioning the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

NIF has yet to finalize the discussion on revised funding guidelines, or to adopt any resolution regarding the mention of accepting Israel as a Jewish state as a criteria for funding. According to individuals who are involved in the process, one formulation being discussed is recognizing Israel as the “homeland” of the Jewish people — a description that falls short of the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” but would avoid alienating Israeli-Arab not-for-profits that are on NIF’s grant list.

Established in 1979, NIF is the largest contributor to civil society causes and progressive programs in Israel. It provides grants to Jewish and Arab human rights groups, as well as support for non-Orthodox religious denominations in Israel, battered women’s shelters, and absorption of Ethiopian Jews and many other not-for-profits.

Attacks against NIF began in late January, when an Israeli group, Im Tirtzu, issued a report claiming that most of the information used by the Goldstone Report, which examined Israel’s conduct during the Gaza military campaign, was obtained from nongovernmental organizations supported by NIF. A barrage of accusations against NIF’s grant-making policy followed, led by the Jerusalem-based group NGO Monitor and gaining wide coverage in the pages of Ma’ariv, one of Israel’s leading dailies.

The criticism also set off intense scrutiny by Israeli lawmakers from the right that led to the passage on August 16 of controversial legislation requiring not-for-profits to report donations from foreign governments. The bill was approved on its first reading, and its prospects are uncertain.

But attacks on NIF also resulted in a reported increase in the group’s donor base and did not have a negative impact on its fundraising. Still, some of NIF’S leadership felt that there was a need to clarify the group’s grant-making policy and to touch on the thorny issue of proving funds to non-Zionist groups.

Peter Edelman, a former president of the NIF board, said in a brief interview with the Forward that revising the guidelines was “not necessarily in response” to criticism. Edelman added, however, that “when there is unjust criticism, then you want to be as clear as possible about the issues.”


Two comments by Richard Silverstein:

tikun-olam

1. New Israel Fund Caving to Im Tirzu Pressure?

New Jewish Israel Fund or Not Arab Israel Fund

The Forward brings distressing news that the New Israel Fund has prepared draft funding guidelines that would bar any Israeli NGO which did not endorse Israel as a Jewish state:

The New Israel Fund, the target of attacks by right-wing organizations accusing it of supporting anti-Zionist groups, is discussing the possibility of specifying in its guidelines that grants will be given only to groups that accept the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland.

…According to three sources who have either seen the new proposed guidelines or were briefed on their content, the debate has also touched on the issue of defining the not-for-profit organizations that are eligible for receiving NIF grants. Board members and major donors are grappling with whether to require that grantees accept the idea of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus agreeing to the principle of Israel as a Jewish state.

I have had my share of disagreements with New Israel Fund, most significantly when it expelled Shammai Leibowitz from one of its fellowship programs after he spoke publicly on behalf of BDS and the story was picked up by Maariv’s resident red-baiter, Ben Caspit.  But I have, throughout the Im Tirzu attacks, stood by NIF and championed its cause.  But if it follows through on such guidelines it will have succumbed to the venom spewed by Im Tirzu.  It will have caved to pressure from the Israeli right to conform its mission to a pro-Zionist one, rather than one that embraces the notion of Israel as a state that empowers all its citizens, including those who are not Jewish.

There can be no doubt that there is any Israeli Palestinian group which NIF currently funds that can support the notion of Israel as a Jewish state.  Besides, this very notion is a condition demanded in the past by Bibi Netanyahu before he would negotiate with the Palestinians.  So in effect, if the NIF “goes there,” it will have adopted Bibi Netanyahu’s political agenda.  Can this be possible?  Is this what things have come to?  That the NIF, under enormous pressure from the Israeli right, determines that it must compromise with its values in order to appease its enemies?  Does NIF really believe this will protect it from the worst of the hatred coming its way?  Does it believe such policy changes will inoculate it from attack?

If this is what NIF’s leaders are thinking they are sadly mistaken.  If they cave, the right will see this as a sign of weakness and it will crowd in for what it hopes to be the kill.  And such compromise will destroy the organization’s credibility among its Arab donees.  Who in the Palestinian community will want to accept money from it under such conditions?

Thus, under attack from its right flank and its left, NIF will be buffeted by the political winds and have no clear course.  It will be a sad day if it happens.

The Forward mentions that there is compromise wording under consideration:

According to individuals who are involved in the process, one formulation being discussed is recognizing Israel as the “homeland” of the Jewish people — a description that falls short of the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” but would avoid alienating Israeli-Arab not-for-profits that are on NIF’s grant list.

I should mention that this indeed is wording that I sometimes use in explaining my own Zionist philosophy with the addendum that I see Israel as the homeland of its Palestinian citizens as well.  Unless this proviso is included then even the compromise wording is offensive.  Besides, why should the NIF determine within its funding guidelines the nature of the Israeli state.  This, it seems to me, takes NIF far afield from its core mission which is to build Israeli democracy and social justice.

This quotation from a former president of the group indicates a leadership that has become unnerved and unmoored in response to the onslaught against it:

Peter Edelman, a former president of the NIF board, said in a brief interview with the Forward that revising the guidelines was “not necessarily in response” to criticism. Edelman added, however, that “when there is unjust criticism, then you want to be as clear as possible about the issues.”

This is a clarity that is unnecessary and which will not diminish the attacks.  It is a clarity that will drive away the Palestinian NGO community and render NIF less effective and less relevant in an Israeli context.  It is the NIF playing by the enemy’s rules–and losing.

Finally, the headline of the Forward article is: New Israel Fund Considering Red Lines, which should have much more appropriately been, New Israel Fund Considering Blue and White Lines. If it adopts these guidelines I’d suggest it change its name to the New Jewish Israel Fund or the Not-Arab Israel Fund, unwieldy perhaps, but very descriptive.

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2. New Israel Fund ‘Jewish Homeland’ Controversy

I posted here about the controversy concerning NIF’s new guidelines as reported by Nathan Guttman in The Forward.  He reported that the group would require grantees to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish homeland.  On that basis, I wrote a post harshly critical of what I perceived as a one-sided set of rules which would discriminate against Israeli Palestinian grantees.

Apparently, according to an authoritative source, Guttman portrayed the guidelines incompletely.  The sources he used for his report appeared interested, again I have this from a reliable source, in guidelines that would’ve forced grantees to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.  That isn’t going to happen.

Leonard Fein, in fact, said in my last post when I noted that NIF was considering compelling grantees to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, that I had lied.  And then he had the chutzpah to wish me a healthy New Year!  In fact, there were those within the NIF who proposed just that.  But their proposal was not successful.

My source tells me the proposed guidelines will include a provision acknowledging Israel as a Jewish homeland.  But the language will also affirm that Israel is:

…A democracy dedicated to the full equality of all its citizens and communities.

I want to make clear that while I’m not fully satisfied with this new wording, it’s less offensive than the incomplete language suggested by Guttman.  And I believe that those who negotiated this wording did so in good faith and attempted to conciliate both a Jewish and Palestinian perspective on the issue.

The reason I’m less than content with the above quoted language is that it does not offer Israeli Palestinians what it offers Israeli Jews.  If you are dedicated to the full equality of all citizens and you’ve conceded to Jews that their nation is their homeland, but refuse to concede this to Palestinian citizens, then they still aren’t equal to Jews.  You’ve come awfully close, but close isn’t equal.  There are some things you just can’t finesse and this is one of them.

There is absolutely no reason that Israel cannot be a single state in which two separate ethnic groups see it as their respective homelands.  For any who would claim that this formulation indicates a bi-national state, that is not the case since Israel will still be a unitary state containing two major ethnic groups.  It will not be two states and will not divide into two separate ethnic enclaves.  While there are some especially on the Jewish side who would prefer to see Israel as a state rid of Palestinians, most Israeli Jews want a state in which the two groups co-exist within a single state of Israel.  Palestinian citizens, of course, want a unitary, and not bi-national state.

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