Officials of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and of affiliated NGOs have been attacking critics following revelations regarding their contributions to the assault on Israel, particularly in the Goldstone Report. Rather than addressing the severe problems that have been exposed, NIF and its supporters have targeted NGO Monitor with hysterical attacks and irrational mudslinging.
Defenders of NIF, such as Gershon Baskin (“A dark day for democracy,” Feb. 8, 2010) and David Newman (“The politics of delegitimization,” Feb. 9, 2010), as well as NGO officials (Mitchell Plitnick of B’Tselem, Hagai El-ad of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yossi Alpher of Peace Now, and others), have painted an image that puts NGO Monitor’s research at the center of a vast right-wing conspiracy and “witch hunt” intent on sabotaging democracy and blocking free speech through “McCarthyite” tactics.
While it is tempting throw some mud back, I will refrain. It is more constructive to provide an alternative to the hysteria used by both political fringes.
I have known Baskin, Newman, Alpher, and NIF President Naomi Chazan for many years, and while I believe their self-interests and narrow ideologies blind them to reality, they are committed Zionists who believe in the importance of Jewish national self-determination.
Why, then, are these Zionists contributing to the war against Israel, using the strategies adopted in the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference and embodied in the Goldstone process? How can we explain their roles in “apartheid” propaganda and exploitation of the language of international law and human rights to demonize Israel?
The major reason may be the fear that NIF and its partner NGOs are losing power provided by an annual budget of $32 million (more than NIS 100 million). As president of NIF, Chazan has far more influence than she did in her brief stint in the Knesset as a member of the Meretz party. Like Jessica Montell of B’Tselem, the leaders of “Breaking the Silence,” and other privileged NGO officials, Chazan operates outside the system of elections and public accountability. This grotesque distortion of democracy, which is not rooted in Israeli civil society, is the basis for the continuous invitations to speak around the world.
The fears that this is about to end are well founded. The power of NGO officials is likely to decline following criticism initiated by NGO Monitor’s reports, and expanded by groups like Reut. NIF’s donors are beginning to realize that beyond “progressive” social causes and support of a moderate “two-state solution,” their contributions – along with two $20 million grants from the Ford Foundation to NIF – enable hard-core Israel-bashing.
Like addicts who cannot admit they have a problem, much less fix it, ideological pundits such as Chazan, Baskin, Newman, and Alpher desperately attempt to rationalize the huge gap between their pristine self-image and the ugly reality. Similarly, they label anyone not sympathetic to the NIF/NGO ideology as a right-wing extremist -- demanding tolerance, but only for themselves. Baskin’s diatribe in the Jerusalem Post accuses NGO Monitor of “going after” organizations that have “a different agenda from the current right-wing religious government,” ignoring NGO Monitor’s work during the Olmert and Kadima years. In his Alice-in-Wonderland world, the Israeli electorate and its representatives are the enemy, while the true democrats are self-appointed NGO officials who "go after" political opponents by promoting boycotts and false war crimes allegations.
NIF’s spiritual leader Leonard Fein, who equates Arafat and Hamas leaders with Martin Luther King, uses his column in the Forward to wage war on NGO Monitor. For his part, Alpher lashes out irrationally at NGO Monitor for initiating a “witch hunt against Israeli human rights advocates and their funders”.
Similarly, Newman conjures shadowy right-wing conspiracies “on the part of these well-funded organizations to silence and delegitimize anyone who holds pro-peace, pro-human rights positions, views which uphold the very best of democratic and Jewish traditions.” His one-dimensional ideological gaze is limited to two possible positions – far left and far right (meaning anyone with whom he disagrees).
Eager to impose this ideological straitjacket, NIF defenders are not above inventing evidence. For example, in absurdly attacking NGO Monitor’s legal action against the European Commission for violating its own rules on transparency by hiding the details of its NGO funding, Newman falsely asserts that our legal team, headed by Trevor Asserson, is receiving a fee from imagined “right-wing” donors.
NGO Monitor’s fact-driven research contrasts sharply with the false claims, inflammatory attacks, and Nixonesque dirty tricks employed by NIF officials and supporters. Mitch Plitnick, B’Tselem’s paid lobbyist in Washington, has repeatedly, and libelously, called me a “liar” on his blog and on Twitter as well as employing crude expletives. NIF’s Ben Murane showed similar “professionalism” in posting a lewd image attacking me on his blog. These are the real examples of intimidation, anti-democratic hysteria, and attempts to silence critics.
The fear of losing influence is understandable, but Chazan, Baskin, Newman, and Alpher may come to recognize their roles in the war against the Zionist goals they claim to support. Instead of clinging desperately to power through attacks on imagined “enemies,” NIF and its allies must be open to dialogue with critics like NGO Monitor to end the exploitation of human rights through the Durban and Goldstone strategies.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and a professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University.