April 4, 2005

To All Concerned:

The following represents NIF’s response to the article authored by Shamai Lebowitz and published in the March 2005 on-line version of The Nation and the reaction to the article posted in the NGO Monitor on April 4, 2005:

  • The New Israel Fund takes tremendous pride in our Israel-U.S. Civil Liberties program, and in the dozens of Israeli graduates who have served the cause of civil rights in Israel since the program’s inception in 1984. As documented in a Haaretz article in May 2004, the work of the NIF Law Fellows following their return to Israel has amounted to a "quiet revolution," dramatically transforming Israeli jurisprudence and increasing respect in Israel for fundamental human rights.
  • Many of our Law Fellows work for Adalah and other NIF grantees. These organizations operate within the legal framework of the State of Israel and contribute valuable expertise and advocacy to important issues. We are proud of their efforts and will continue to support them.
  • As an organization founded on Jewish values, including the right to free speech and difference of opinion, we do not require our Law Fellows to agree with every policy and program of the New Israel Fund – nor do we necessarily agree with or endorse all of their opinions.
  • Lastly, while Mr. Lebowitz did not identify himself as a law fellow in the on-line Nation article, we state for the record that we unequivocally disassociate ourselves from his statements about disinvestment in Israel, the nature of the IDF, and U.S. aid to Israel. His views on these subjects as expressed in the article and elsewhere are inconsistent with those of NIF and their introduction to the debate is not helpful to the causes NIF seeks to promote.

Larry Garber
Executive Director

The author responds:

It is good to see that the NIF has decided to disassociate itself from some of NIF grantee Shamai Leibowitz’s extreme anti-Israel statements (specifically, his support for divestment and opposition to the IDF and US aid to Israel).

Nonetheless, the NIF’s response remains disturbing in several respects. In this as in other cases, the selections made in the NIF’s Israel-U.S. Civil Liberties Program reflect a sharp inconsistency between the stated goal (and, indeed, pride) in the program as the generator of civil rights leadership for Israel, on the one hand, and the grantees’ anti-Israel political activity, on the other. While grantees are supposed to be promoting the civil rights agenda of NIF’s donors, an inordinate number are, in fact, promoting an agenda calling for the destruction of Israel. This process cannot be said to promote a stronger and more pluralist and liberal Israeli society.

Similarly, when the NIF promotes groups such as Adalah to promote a civil rights and liberal agenda within Israel, their extremist anti-Israeli activities cannot be ignored or dismissed with the laconic statement that Adalah "operate[s] within the legal framework of the state of Israel." The NIF is certainly right that it must respect the free speech rights of all Israelis, including those that promote goals inimical to those of the NIF and its donors. However, this is beside the point. Many organizations legally operate in Israel, but the NIF does not support them all. The NIF owes its donors the fiduciary duty of restricting its funding to the promotion of civil rights and similar goals openly endorsed by the NIF, rather than granting monies to individuals and groups that delegitimize the very notion of a democratic Jewish state.

As noted, Leibowitz’s anti-Israel agenda should have been apparent to NIF selection committee, and the case of Leibowitz is far from unique in the framework of the NIF grants to Israeli individuals and NGOs. The NIF owes its donors more than statements of disassociation; it needs to revise its methods for choosing grant recipients so as to ensure that, in the future, funds intended to build a democratic, pluralistic and civil rights-respecting Israel do not get diverted to campaigns to undermine and destroy the Jewish state.

Avi Bell