The New Israel Fund’s role in funding and promoting anti-Israel campaigns, as documented in NGO Monitor’s research reports, is generating increasing criticism from Israelis.
On July 16, 2010, Ma’ariv’s Ben-Dror Yemini devoted his column to “Shlomit,” a social change activist who works for an NGO providing services in the Israeli-Arab sector. In June, Shlomit attended a leadership training seminar run by Shatil (an NIF program), and sponsored by the Ford Israel Fund (a partnership between NIF and Ford Foundation). The 20 participants were all from NIF-funded organizations, including a “significant presence...from the Palestinian cause” represented by NGOs such as Mossawa, Sikkuy, Amnesty-Israel, and Neve Shalom.
In a letter to NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch (reproduced below), Shlomit wrote that some of the participants were activists “who want to annihilate the State without ruling out violent means, who believe that the State of Israel was born out of sin and who apologize for its existence, who loathe Israel and its symbols...who devote their lives and efforts towards turning Israel into a bi or multi-national country...They also equate Israel’s actions with those of Nazi Germany” (emphasis original). These radical views were expressed during the course of the seminar.
Yemini’s article describes how Shlomit expressed her concerns to NIF, but received no response until after Ma’ariv contacted NIF officials.
(The translation of Shlomit’s letter was provided by Ben-Dror Yemini. Ben-Dror Yemini’s article and NIF’s response were translated by NGO Monitor, and have not been approved by Yemini or NIF.)
Demonization: An Inside Look
Ben-Dror Yemini, Ma'ariv, July 16, 2010
“I found myself with human rights activists who reject Israel’s right to exist. Who are striving for the destruction of Israel. Do NIF donors know that their money is funding the destruction of the state?”
These are the experiences of someone who works at a non-profit organization, an NIF grantee, who returned from a leadership seminar horrified at what she saw.
The following is difficult, almost inconceivable. This is insider testimony on what is taking place under the auspicies of the NIF. Everything that was written about it in the preceding months is insignificant compared to the reality. Yes, of course, NIF supports social organizations. It contributes to society. Because what is printed below is written by a central activist at one of the social organizations that receives support from NIF, let’s call her Shlomit. She is not a right-wing activist, just the opposite. She defines herself as “left-wing, Zionist, and religious.” She supports criticism of Israel. She works among Arabs because of her belief in equality. But it became clear to her that the story with NIF is entirely different.
About a month ago, Shlomit had a difficult experience at a conference run by Shatil (a branch of NIF). This caused her crisis. She couldn’t sleep for nights. She turned to me. I advised her to talk to the heads of NIF, to get their response. She contacted them. Long weeks went by, and no one bothered to respond. They remembered that she existed only after Ma’ariv contacted them. What is published here are Shlomit’s words. Following that, the response from NIF is provided.
Dear Mr. Sokatch
I am writing this letter to you in a very personal manner despite not actually knowing you personally. It is not an official letter launching a complaint, nor is it a letter of accusation or a request. Rather it is a letter expressing a pain which I have found no other way to express. I would like to apologize up front for the length but I feel it is necessary in order to explain the full succession of events without sparing any details, thus providing as full a picture as possible. I would also like to stress that I am representing myself and not any organization or specific group of people.
My name is Shlomit. I am 36 years old and live in Israel. I am married to a British immigrant and have 3 children. I have been a social activist in several organizations for social change throughout my entire professional life. In the past I have served as the spokesperson for an organization promoting women’s rights and am currently managing the unit for social change in an organization which operates within the field of disabilities. As far as my political beliefs go, I would define myself as religious left-wing and in the previous elections I voted for Meimad under the leadership of Rabbi Melchior.
I grew up in a Zionistic home where my father was an emissary for the Jewish Agency in and I, too, went as an emissary for the Jewish Agency. My Zionist education along with the liberal world outlook on which I was raised led me to devote both my professional and personal life towards building a more righteous and just Israeli society: I was amongst the first people to set up the women's council in my city and I helped to form a community that integrates both religious and secular families. Perhaps my most significant achievement to date is establishing a social centre. This community model has been adopted by the welfare office for parents of children that have special needs and a similar centre is currently being built in east Jerusalem. Within my professional framework, I have always been aided and assisted by the services of "Shatil" from the outset. As a spokesperson, I was assisted by an intern from the "Everett scholarship" and also received advisory services from "Shatil" in many areas. About 2 years ago I set up a social change division for the purpose of empowering parents and families of special needs children in Israel. A significant portion of our work as well as the organization's budget goes towards developing leadership and services for the Arab sectors in the Negev, Jerusalem, the triangle and the Galil. At present I have the help of another successful intern from the "Everett scholarship" via Shatil and am thus very connected to "Shatil", the Fund and its people. This has been my professional scope over the last decade.
The report of the "Im Tirzu” movement created somewhat of a shockwave amongst me and my colleagues. On the one hand, we thought that if there was an element of truth in it then the Fund should do some soul-searching and we assumed they would. However, we were not prepared to cast aspersions on our loyalty to the Fund and to Shatil. The people of Shatil are after all our people too - activists for social change and the third sector, whose purpose is to build a more just and egalitarian Israel. In addition, for someone who has been raised and educated by professor Alice Shalvi, her being involved in the management of the
Fund meant an automatic certificate of Kashrut to me. This is the reason why, when my manager suggested I attend a leadership program run by an American institution catering for managers and leaders for social change, I did not hesitate. I knew that the possibility of receiving a scholarship for a week in the desert along with fellow activists, with professional guidance from America, and that would ultimately create a group of quality colleagues was an opportunity for empowerment and growth. I was so elated and grateful that they were willing to invest in me in such a way.
There were several qualification stages leading up to the program which I passed successfully and once the final list of participants had been compiled, I realized that I was the only representative for the disabilities. There was another representative for the environment but the most significant presence came from the Palestinian cause: Amnesty International, Sikkuy (The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel), AJEEC (Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation), Neve Shalom, Itach (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), Moussawa(Advocacy for Arab Citizens in Israel) and others. There weren't any representatives, for example, for the absorption of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants. Nor were there any representatives for pluralistic Judaism. At the time, this did not seem problematic apart from the fact that I was the only person representing the disabilities – a field which transcends political views or affiliation. I was slightly apprehensive that the political would be ever-present within the group but did not give it too much thought.
And then, days before the program was to commence, the incident occurred with the flotilla heading for Gaza. The flotilla episode was much like the disengagement from Gaza, in the way that it divided Israeli society and beckoned you to choose a specific side of the argument. However, in this case, unlike the Disengagement plan which was complex and traumatic and which made me change my mind daily, there was no doubt in my mind as to whose side I was on. One of the marines, who was seriously wounded, is close to my family and I was convinced that he and his fellow soldiers were misled, and ultimately did the best they could do to prevent harming any of the passengers. It was only due to their resourcefulness that they were not killed or kidnapped. Our reality is so complex and causes us to constantly evaluate and re-assess our government's policies, but here there was no doubt that I was on the side of the soldiers. This gave way to more apprehension regarding the trip to the desert. I did not want to find myself in the minority or having to constantly defend myself against the other participants. I was worried about how the incident would influence the mood of the program but I still wanted to attend as I had been so looking forward to it.
When the convener of the course sent out an email I became even more apprehensive as it was addressed to the "community of human rights activists". I felt as if there was a call for a united voice of all the participants and so I decided to reply to her in an honest email expressing my worries. She was amazing and calmed me down by explaining that there would be room for everyone to voice their opinion and that it was vital that my opinion be heard too. She also stressed that the contents of this program were about personal leadership and that the politics would be left outside the scope. I decided to go.
That turned out to be a mistake.
It has now been two weeks since the program ended and I am still struggling to get back into routine both at home and at work. The level of the shake-up I experienced was so powerful that it led me to write this letter especially to you. I found myself in the desert under laboratory conditions, cut off from the world, cut off from Internet, with Palestinian and Jewish human rights activists who negated the State of Israel's existence. With people who want to annihilate the State without ruling out violent means, who believe that the State of Israel was born out of sin and who apologize for its existence, who loathe Israel and its symbols, who justify harming Israel, its soldiers and all its institutions, who devote their lives and efforts towards turning Israel into a bi or multi-national country. In fact the above is inaccura te. These people are fighting for one nationality alone – Palestinian. These same people oppose communal or civil national service for Arabs within the State. They also equate Israel's actions with those of Nazi Germany.
It should be said that not everyone said all these things. Some said part of them while others remained silent and those that remained silent did not seem to be offended by what was being said. I would have preferred not having to write about this so bluntly but then I would be erring in describing to you what actually happened throughout the week. The American mentors, who were excellent, also seemed to be under the impression that the key issue for our group was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their tutorials were presented accordingly.
By Monday evening of the course, I could no longer hold back and decided to approach the tutors. First, though, I consulted with a prominent woman in the world of social change and in particular the disabilities and who is considered politically centrist-left, in order to determine whether my reaction was normal. The situation where I had to distance myself from a group of people whom I thought of as colleagues was very difficult. It was hard to hear the constant denouncing and loathing of the existence of the IDF, when back home, all of my friends irrespective of their political views, had left their families and small children at home (and will continue to do so) to join fellow soldiers in the protection of Israel from missiles that were being fired on its citizens. It was also hard to hear the hatred towards a country that to me represented one of the biggest miracles and acts of justice that mankind has ever known. I could not tolerate being in an atmosphere where my Jewish identity was being paralyzed in a way that I had never felt before in my life. Needless to say, she was shocked by the things I had told her and after encouraging me, she recommended I express my feelings to the tutors. I then turned to them and with tears in my eyes and tried to explain the hurt that I was feeling.
"I love my country" I cried. "I don't always agree with everything that my government decides, but I love the country and its symbols. I have devoted my life to building it. Every social activity I have ever undertaken has been motivated by Zionism especially for equal rights and developing amenities for Arab society. Over here I wouldn't dare exclaim out aloud that that I have a strong Jewish identity and that I am a proud Jew and Zionist. This was how life was in the 1930s just like my late grandmother used to describe it".
The tutors were stunned by what I told them and tried to persuade me to stay on until Tuesday afternoon but said they would respect my decision if I chose to leave. On Tuesday morning they discussed dealing with triggers and conflicts and I chose to deal with my situation by staying on until the end.
I think the whole experience was far more difficult for me than it was for the others, because they were all amazing people and leaders who were doing everything for the causes that they believed in. It was difficult not to admire them. Since I have been home, I have not been able to sleep well. I have been playing this week over and over in my mind trying to find what hurt me and what shocked me. I have to say that this was an excellent program with a wonderful content. The overall mood amongst the participants was one of accepting and empowering. Were it not for the presence of politics, we all would have had so much in common. But the radical left was so present in the room that it seemed obvious that everyone was speaking in one voice. All the sentences began with "we" and not "I". It seemed like no issue was complex nor were there different views regarding the issue. The IDF was a conquering army, Israel was a colonial state, only the Palestinians suffered and this was the only real issue at heart.
It has been two weeks since and I am still disturbed by what I have experienced. I have decided to write to you to try and get some answers. The thought that the Fund is walking in that spirit was unbearable for me. Do the supporters of the Fund have any idea that the numerous organizations benefiting from its support and counsel are putting all their effort into negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Is the Fund itself openly working towards removing the "Jewishness" from the State? Is the Fund trying to turn Israel into a country for all her inhabitants alongside a Palestinian state? Is the Fund backing the fact that the aim of the Palestinian society sector within "Shatil" is to strengthen the expression of the Palestinian nation, and that on the Jewish side of the spectrum the aim is to strengthen freedom of religion and not Jewish identity and the national expression of the Jews in their homeland? Is the Fund backing the fact that Shatil's sector for immigrant absorption is dealing just with that and not promoting or legitimizing immigration? I cannot help but wonder why the Fund defines its political right limitations (for example, the advert looking for social activists for the Golan Heights was postponed by the notice board of Shatil), but does not restrict its political left: for example, denouncing any form of violence or violation of the law by organizations and their activists.
Are you aware of this "atmosphere" amongst the leaders of organizations which the Fund supports? Can the Fund give coverage to the issue of loathing and denouncing Israel and its institutions? I have never participated in struggles or protests, only with building and developing. My allegiance to the Fund and Shatil was uncompromising after the publication of the report. I was their strongest defender and I absolutely identified with their goals and activities. I can say unequivocally, that this has been one of the main causes of the feelings of my feelings of late. I am not complaining about specific people. I am actually not complaining at all. It is the right of every person, organization, group of organizations and the fund that supports them to act according to what they deem correct as well as set their own goal, as long as all of this is clear and known to their supporters and activists. But I cannot let what I have experienced pass by knowing that there is a possibility that the "creature" is turning against its "creator". I feel that you, as manager of the Fund,
would want to hear and know these things. Perhaps the Fund and all of its leaders should currently be hearing this voice not from a high perch of criticism but rather from its legitimacy in the eyes of social activists such as me. In the eyes of people who up until today, thought that they belonged to the liberal left but cannot be part of it or its activities anymore without feeling that they are harming their existence as Jews in a Jewish state. I know that your previous home was the Jewish federation of San Francisco and I also know that one of the aims, amongst others, of this organization, is to strengthen Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. This is a good enough reason for me to believe that you still represent this vital goal today. These are tough times to be an Israeli both at home and abroad. I as an Israeli Jew, who believes in "Tikun Olam" and trying to build a more just and egalitarian society and who has devoted and will continue to devote her efforts to achieve this goal, could not carry on in life without writing this letter to you with all its honesty and pain.
I hope to hear from you soon,
All my regards,
Weeks passed. Shlomit waited for a reply. Nothing. No one at NIF, it seems, thought that she deserved a serious reply. Only after Ma’ariv contacted NIF was a response given. Here it is:
“The Rockwood program is a prestigious international program for the development of social leadership that is based on the many years of experience and expertise of the Rockwood Institute in this field. The leadership seminar in the desert was the first attempt to harness the expertise and knowledge of the Rockwood Institute for the bettering of overall society in Israel. The program is based on an open discussion among the participants in both a wide forum and in small working groups, which allow for the sincere personal expression of the participants in a pluralistic, intimate and secure setting. Over the course of the program the participants give voice their personal opinions on a wide variety of topics.
The claims made in the article do not at all reflect what took place at the program, according to testimonies from the 19 other participants, including the CEO of Sikkuy, Ron Gerlitz; the CEO of Agenda, Anat Sargusti; and three women on staff, who did not hear any of what was allegedly said, certainly not the promotion of the destruction of the State of Israel. The program did not at all focus on political aspects, and did not include any content or instruction of the type described in the letter. And in any event, such opinions in no way reflect the position of the Rockwwod Institue or Shatil. Nonetheless, we cannot take responsibility for every passing comment that Shlomit claims to have heard or that she was exposed to.
The CEO of NIF in the US replied to Shlomit regarding her petition. (Note: This is not accurate. He answered, but only after Ma’ariv contacted him – Yemini.) We regret that Shlomit left with a negative impression after the program, since all the other participants that were there returned from the program with a positive and empowering impression.”
This was Shlomit’s letter and NIF’s response.
NIF doesn't quite get it
Following the letter, I spoke with several NIF officials. This time it is I who is turning to you, NIF. You tried to tell me that there was a misunderstanding, that Shlomit was certainly mistaken. Sure. NIF- no one understands you. When you say that you are for a Jewish democratic state, but you support organizations that work with all their might against a Jewish democratic state- no one understands you. When you say that you do not participate in the campaign to boycott Israel, but you fund organizations that support the boycott- no one understands you. When you say that you do not participate in the demonization of Israel, but your president says that “Israel is carrying out a massacre”- no one understands you.
Now Shlomit too does not understand NIF. At least she is in good company. She understands perfectly. You, NIF, are having trouble understanding. Even when you recognize Jewish self-determination (and that’s only the moderate ones among you), it comes out very forced, mere lip service. What is most important to you is to expose the atrocities you claim Jews are perpetrating against Arabs, in Israel and the territories.
You are not bothered by the fact that your activities, which could have been worthy, have become part of a different campaign, one that is much larger, whose essence is not human rights but the rejection of the right of the Jews to a state. You are like an ambulance rushing to help someone injured in a car crash who runs over several hundred people on the way. And the ambulance driver doesn’t understand what they want from him- “Me? But, my motives were pure.”
How much longer will you hide under the umbrella of human rights, when the overarching umbrella is one which rejects rights? The vast majority of organizations in the world which deal with this issue, and with which you are a partner, work, usually openly, for the destruction of the State of Israel. Sometimes it’s hidden behind pretty words like “a multi-national state” or “a state of all its citizens,” with the goal in actuality being “the right of return.” The problem is that you – yes, you – grant them legitimacy. You know that within these groups there are antisemites. But for some reason this doesn’t bother you. The result is obvious. In order to prevent a small injustice, you are taking part in the creation of a horrific one.
Shlomit, like many others, came to you to battle against injustices. You drag her, and many others, into taking part in a new atrocity: the destruction of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. And when she wakes up and realizes that she doesn’t want to take part- you are suprised. If you were busy dealing with injustices, which certainly do exist, many would be with you and with Shlomit. But you insist on being “useful idiots” in the service of the campaign to destroy Israel. Many of you have good, even excellent intentions for an equal society, human rights. Does that justify your association with the global coalition of Hamas-Taliban-human rights groups?
If the reputation of human rights is irreparably stained, it is your doing. Not Shlomit’s. She went to a conference for rights activists. She found herself in the midst of a campaign to eliminate her very being. Instead of defaming her, or crying about persecution, McCarthyism, and fascism – take a look in the mirror. It is not too late.
You have tough times ahead of you. They will mark you as a right-wing clueless fascist, as a traitor to their camp. I’ve experienced this. This is their strategy. At a certain point, when it becomes clear that Ruth Gavison, Amnon Rubinstein, Shlomo Avineri, Gadi Taub, Alex Yakobson, Ben Caspit, and many others are right-wing fascists, maybe they’ll begin to sober up. Indeed, this is what they do to all those who think that Israel was not born in sin, and that it does not ceaselessly commit crimes, and that it has the right to defend itself.
They do this to everyone who strays from the ranks. Indeed, there was not one word directed at them that they did not turn into incitement, McCarthyism, and fascism. The ideals of freedom of expression and pluralism are on their lips, but the sword of Bolshevism is in their hands. They are in love with the idea of criticism, but they delegitimize every criticism.
Not all of them, Shlomit. There are honest and sincere people among them. You are not alone. Indeed, you love the people that were with you there, despite not liking what was said there. If the decent people understand that you are not the enemy, and if that causes them to begin, just begin, a self-critique, then you did the right thing.
Gita Sahgal had a similar experience when she came out against Amnesty, in which she held a senior position. She revealed things from inside. She paid a heavy personal price. She instigated a fundamental debate. Months have passed and she knows she did the right thing. Many at Amnesty and other human rights organizations have given her support. You too did the right thing. Now we are left to see if human rights activists, the honest and decent ones among them, will also do the right thing. You passed the test. Now it is their turn.