The New Israel Fund is a powerful organization that has a wide influence on Israeli public life, in many different areas. The officials and board members of the NIF, which is based in the United States, control a budget of approximately $30 million, which is dispersed to a number of political and social groups, some of which are very controversial.
Yet last week, as the NIF board held its annual meetings in Jerusalem, the Israeli public, whose lives are most influenced by the decisions made by the NIF, was entirely excluded from the secret proceedings.
This lack of transparency and accountability, which extends to many aspects of NIF’s operations, has not helped the organization deal with serious problems, particularly with respect to the political advocacy groups that it funds. Some of these groups are very active in promoting the demonization of Israel, including participation in the Goldstone process and in the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement.
While NIF officials have been hiding, they are at least listening. Last year, following extensive debate and media criticism, the NIF board adopted guidelines that barred such funding for BDS. NIF pledged that it “will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.” NIF’s website also was changed in December 2010, declaring that NIF “opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.”
But in practice, NIF’s funding of and cooperative relationships with these groups continued, perhaps without the knowledge of some of the Israel-based officials. Had the organization also practiced transparency and been open to informed criticism, they would not have been embarrassed by the revelations from one of its partners – the misnamed Coalition of Women for Peace, a leader in the BDS movement – declaring that it had continued to receive NIF funding until May 2011.
When NGO Monitor, the organization that I head, offered to discuss our research and guidelines, the NIF leadership refused to meet us. Instead, they responded with a flood of uncivil rhetoric, including the libel that “NGO Monitor knowingly published false information.”
Perhaps the policy has changed, and in this spirit, I am renewing my invitation to the NIF board to meet with informed and responsible critics for an important, open, and civil dialogue. We share many values based on democracy – which both of our organizations hold in high regard – and an unshakable commitment to Zionism and the right to Jewish self-determination. Holding such a conversation is essential to effectively implementing NIF’s progressive, enlightened and liberal principles.
We also agree that NIF plays an important role in Israeli society, and many grant recipients make positive and important contributions to advance social programs and minority rights. NGOs supported by this dimension of the NIF agenda run shelters for battered women and promote dialogue between different parts of Israeli society.
However, up to one-fourth of NIF’s budget is directed to the group of radical NGOs that continue to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and, citing NIF’s approval, more funds are provided for the same NGOs through European governments. Funding for these highly politicized organizations – which are active in the BDS movement and call for the end of Israel as a Jewish state – directly contradicts NIF’s new guidelines, While NIF recently cut ties with CWP, the NGOs Adalah and Mada al-Carmel, both leaders in the delegitimization efforts, continue to receive NIF funding. Two members of Mada al-Carmel, spoke at the March 16, 2011 Israeli Apartheid Week event at Tel Aviv University, “Life and Struggle in Apartheid.” The NGO also co-authored the “Haifa Declaration” (2007) that calls for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state” and accuses Israel of “exploiting” the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”
Adalah officials, also involved in the Haifa Declaration, wrote and edited large portions of a May 2009 pseudo-academic study that refers to Israel as “a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.” The report delegitimizes Israeli self-defense measures as “inhumane act[s] of apartheid…perpetrated in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another.” Adalah also drafted a “Democratic Constitution,” which calls for replacing the Jewish foundation of the state with a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural” framework.”
A serious exchange between NIF and NGO Monitor could speed implementation of funding practices that are consistent with NIF’s own guidelines. Furthermore, it would be a chance to discuss NGO Monitor’s expanded “Ethical Guidelines for Political Advocacy NGOs,”which provide clear “red lines” regarding demonization of Israel. The guidelines also offer mechanisms to effectively monitor NGO activity and rhetoric.
NIF’s objective is to promote a vibrant and justice-based society based on the twin pillars of Zionism and democracy. For its part, NGO Monitor analyzes hundreds of groups active in the political dimension, in order to advance the principles of Zionism and democracy. As two organizations with more commonality than is usually understood, a dialog would benefit Israel in many respects. In the spirit of common purpose and self- reflection, I look forward to this dialog with the NIF.
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution that tracks NGOs that claim to protect human rights, particularly in the Middle East.