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NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 12) 20 August 2003

Exchange of letters on NIF transparency and accountability

This is an exchange of two letters between NGO Monitor and the New Israel Fund President Peter Edelman and Executive Director Norman Rosenberg.

Part 1

Response to Peter Edelman, President and Norman Rosenberg, Executive Director New Israel Foundation

June 18, 2003

Dear Mr. Edelman and Mr. Rosenberg

On behalf of NGO Monitor, thank you for your detailed response to our inquiry. As we have noted repeatedly, our goal is not to attack or condemn the New Israel Fund as an organization, but rather to provide information, documentation, and a careful analysis of a central aspect of NIF's activities - funding for NGOs that claim to be involved in human rights.

While your reply focuses on the legal issues, and you emphasize that none of the groups supported by NIF have or their activities been declared illegal, this makes them neither moral nor ethical. Clearly, in the open and democratic framework of Israeli society, many actions and activities that are distasteful, offensive, and unethical are not necessarily illegal. Despite the defects in Israeli democracy that you may see, it is not illegal to call for the replacement of Israel with a state for "all of its citizens". At the same time, this is clearly a negation of the goal and accomplishments of Zionism.

However, it appears that many contributors to NIF expect this organization to support Zionist goals, and in your letter, you also restate your personal adherence. And yet, the funding provided by NIF for clearly anti-Zionist positions, as detailed below, is entirely inconsistent with such objectives. This is not a matter or support for the legitimate activities of Israeli Arab organizations, per se, or for the development of democracy, but rather focuses on the use of these funds provided by the NIF for other far more sinister purposes.

As documented in detail in NGO Monitor, many "human rights organizations", such as the Arab Association of Human Rights (HRA), a recipient of NIF funding, play a major role in the campaign for political and ideological delegitimation and isolation of Israel. NGO's analysis of HRA's weekly press review includes clear evidence of the very distorted and inaccurate image of Israeli society that is routinely presented, (see http://www.jcpa.org/ngo/ngo-1-HRA.html). A more recent HRA report is entitled "Silencing dissent, a report on the violation of political rights of the Arab political parties in Israel", http://www.arabhra.org/SilencingDissentFinal.pdf. This report begins with an unnecessary and offensive picture insinuating that the Israeli authorities resort to physical abuse of Arab Knesset members. (NIF is prominently listed as a funder at the beginning of this report.) HRA also took part in the infamous Durban conference in September 2001 and issued no public statement to condemn the slogans adopted there to justify the brutal campaign of terror that has taken so many lives. Indeed, through such policies, NGOs such as HRA embody the antithesis of the norms that human rights organizations claim to foster and the noble principles the NIF seeks to encourage.

As we have discovered, in many cases, the contributors to these organizations are unaware of the unexpected and deceitful use of their funds. While their mission statements pay homage to accountability and transparency, many groups practice these norms very selectively, especially as far as Israel is concerned. Contributors and supporters are also unaware of the failure of many NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict to apply professional standards in verifying claims and presenting evidence. The substantial resources made available to the NGO community allow them to acquire broad influence and generate publicity. Their reports are repeated and highlighted in the media, by diplomats, and academics hostile to Israel. On this basis, it is clear that the monitoring and analysis of the everyday activities of the NGOs, as opposed to concentrating on their mission statements and funding applications is an extremely important function. By the same token, analyzing how and why funding sources, including the NIF, the Ford Foundation, Christian Aid and the European Union choose to support NGOs provides an important public function in maintaining accountability and highest standards in the NGO sector. For this reason, NGO Monitor was founded.

Your response to our questions provides an important basis for undertaking a solid evaluation of NIF's policies. In terms of transparency of funding, NIF's information on funding for organizations in amounts over $20,000 appears to be complete. By comparing funding information for different years, it is also possible to determine which organizations have been removed from the list of NIF's grant recipients, although the reasons are not listed.

With respect to accountability, you note that "Funding decisions by the New Israel Fund are made by committees of our Board of Directors. .... The grants staff in Israel is charged with a programmatic review of the activities of our grantees ... If there are any concerns or problems, the Executive Director in Israel will contact the grantee to review the concerns and to request appropriate corrective action."

Thus, it appears that NIF's grants staff and Executive Director, based in Israel, are responsible for funding certain NGOs which play a central role in the delegitimation of Israel, white-washing Palestinian terrorism and undermining universal human rights values. In contrast, the evidence indicates that the vast majority of Israelis find these activities immoral and unacceptable. For example, the activities of the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) led the Israeli Medical Association (a professional and non-political organization) to announce an end to all cooperative links. In its simplistic propaganda, PHR-I entirely erases the brutality of Palestinian terrorism, essentially denying the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time, PHR-I ignores the complex dilemmas inherent in responding to such terrorism, trivializing the need to balance the different and often contradictory demands of normative human rights, and turning these issues into blunt political instruments for pursuing a narrow political and ideological goal. The same is true for the "Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions", which uses terms such as "apartheid" to describe Israel's efforts to prevent suicide bombings, and encourages Israeli Arab citizens to remember the Nakba (catastrophe) on May 15. Yet, NIF is a prominent source of funding and legitimacy for all of these organizations. In contrast, there are many effective Arab NGOs in Israel, including the Galilee Society on which we also produced a report, http://www.jcpa.org/ngo/ngo-7-GS.html, that do not resort to these anti-Zionist political goals.

Given this clear and detailed evidence, we reject your assertion that our analysis of the negative role played by NIF funded organizations in the campaign to delegitimze Israel is "inherently and fundamentally flawed." An examination of the public relations and political activities of these organizations clearly shows that they are not "civil and human rights organizations that speak out on behalf of the democratic rights of the minority citizens of Israel". They do not focus their actions on the search for "equality" or for justice and "minority rights" as propounded by the Prophets, as you claim. Instead, most of their activities and resources are devoted to other issues related to undermining the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Comparing the campaigns of groups supported by NIF to dismantle the Jewish state with the oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt or in the former Soviet Union is frankly insensitive and offensive. Far from supporting the "long-term interests of the state of Israel", or "bringing to light ways in which Israeli democracy can be strengthened and improved", your funding for politically motivated groups with narrow agendas goes against your self-declared objectives.

Finally, we were very disappointed by your claims that our analyses are "un-democratic and un-Jewish." Our reports are carefully researched and have one goal in mind; to provide greater accountability in civil society. We NEVER attack or undermine the importance of human rights NOR do we deny the right of organizations to condemn and criticize Israel. We do, however, mourn the fact that the label "universal human rights organization" is being exploited for highly politicized agendas. These groups need to amend their mission statements to reveal their true objectives. We hope that you as well as NIF's contributors will consider these issues carefully and embark on a full revision of these very destructive funding policies.

We look forward to a constructive dialogue.
Sincerely,

Gerald M. Steinberg Editor, NGO Monitor

18 June 2003



Part 2

NIF transparency and accountability issues

From: "Peter Edelman"

The New Israel Fund fundamentally disagrees with you on the role of non-governmental organizations in the Israeli Arab community in strengthening Israel's democracy. Despite our obvious disagreement with the basic premises of your questions and your articles, we shall respond to your specific inquiries about the New Israel Fund, its accountability, procedures and funding decisions. An accounting of our funding to our grantee organizations is always publicly available to those who agree - and those who disagree - with us.

You ask four specific questions: (1) Where and in what form does NIF provide information about the organizations that it funds, and the levels of support that are provided?

NIF publishes its annual report (usually in June about the prior calendar year) providing not only fully audited financial reports but a listing of all grants we make of $20,000 or more. The annual report is mailed to all donors of $500 or more to the New Israel Fund and is available on our website. [Since we realize that you probably are not a donor of $500 or more to us, we are taking the liberty of sending you one for free.]

(2) Accountability -- does NIF have a set of rules and procedures for the review of funding decisions and activities of the organizations that receive NIF support? If so, please provide this information.

Yes. Funding decisions by the New Israel Fund are made by committees of our Board of Directors. Some are made by the grants committee; others are made by committees where we share decision-making authority through joint ventures with other foundations. All decisions by Board Committees are reviewed and approved by the full Board. The grants staff in Israel is charged with a programmatic review of the activities of our grantees to ensure that they are in line with the purposes for which the grant has been awarded. If there are any concerns or problems, the Executive Director in Israel will contact the grantee to review the concerns and to request appropriate corrective action.

The organizations that NIF supports all work within the legal framework of the state of Israel. They take cases to court. They conduct educational activities in the press or with government and elected officials. Their views may not be yours, but they do not cross any legal lines - either in a way that would cause physical harm to the citizens of the country or that illegally seeks to overthrow the government or undermine the state. If they do, they will unquestionably be defunded.

(3) Has NIF halted funding for any organizations or activities (since January 2001) following such a review?

Yes. The New Israel Fund has removed several organizations from its approved funding list because of such concerns.

(4) What procedures are available to NIF donors in order to review the use of funds?

The annual report is available to all donors and non-donors both by requesting it from our office and by downloading it online at www.nif.org. Donors can also feel free to contact any staff person of the New Israel Fund with particular questions about NIF programs and funding decisions.

One final note in closing: you state in your letter that the New Israel Fund has failed to point out a single error in your writings about our work. Perhaps you have misunderstood our replies to date. You're right: we don't actually believe that there is any single error in your interpretation; rather, we believe your entire analysis to be inherently and fundamentally flawed. Your premise is that civil and human rights organizations that speak out on behalf of the democratic rights of the minority citizens of Israel undercut the interests of the state.

We reject that view - not only as erroneous, but as un-democratic and un-Jewish. It is the cornerstone of our work that the organizations we support are acting in the long-term interests of the state of Israel. By bringing to light ways in which Israeli democracy can be strengthened and improved - specifically by recognizing and protecting the rights of minority citizens of the state - these organizations and the New Israel Fund are fulfilling a very Zionist mission.

They are helping to realize the vision of the founders of the state of Israel who sought to build a state in which all citizens - Jewish and non-Jewish alike - were treated equally and fully respected by the law. They are also fulfilling the vision of our prophets that we should be a people who remember what it is like to be a minority and to be oppressed. Our prophets guide us to remember that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt and that we must therefore act toward the stranger among us as we would have them act toward us. Our recent history should remind us what it was like in the 20th century to live as a minority in Europe, in the Soviet Union and even in some parts of the Middle East.

Clearly, we have fundamentally different world views. What is to us and to NIF a civil rights organization is to you a radical threat to the state. What is to you an anti-Zionist danger to our dream of Israel is to us a part of the way to secure that dream. We would hope that we would be able to agree to disagree. That is the beauty of democracy. We at NIF certainly will not be going out of our way to attack your viewpoint or to impugn your motives or your belief system. We are also not going out of business in the face of ongoing attacks from you and those who share your views. In fact, your attacks only strengthen our convictions.

For the future, please be aware that all the information that you could possibly want about our work is available through public documents and sources. You will have to excuse us from here on in we refer you to that information rather than providing you a personalized response to repeated attacks.

Sincerely,

Peter Edelman, President
Norman Rosenberg, Executive Director

Thursday, 5 June

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