Hey, NIF! Criticism is a democratic right
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Those who make a full-time pursuit of criticizing others probably should grow thicker skin. Yet the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its NGO grantees have launched a thin-skinned offensive against an Israeli student group that criticized them. And they have dragged NGO Monitor into the fray.
As soon as Im Tirtzu released its report detailing how Israeli human rights organizations contributed to the Goldstone Report, NIF backers unleashed ad hominem attacks against the student group and against NGO Monitor (though we were not involved in the report). NIF has threatened to sue Im Tirtzu and any newspaper that repeats its findings. It also sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calling NGO Monitor “the rotten fruit of Israeli democracy.”
The record needs to be set straight regarding many troubling aspects of NIF’s combative reaction. To avert criticism of their activities, many of the non-governmental organizations highlighted in Im Tirtzu’s report – such as B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – are promoting the canard that if only Israel had cooperated with Richard Goldstone and his UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza war, his report would not have been as outrageously one-sided as it turned out to be.
In truth, there is no evidence that Israeli participation in the Goldstone mission would have changed the outcome of the widely panned report.
Goldstone’s mission was the product of a political war conducted against Israel in the UN Human Rights Council. Led by some of the world’s most abusive regimes – including China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia – this corrupt body has ignored mass atrocities such as the genocide in Darfur, the slaughter of more than 25,000 Sri Lankans and the forced starvation and enslavement of North Koreans. Indeed, the Goldstone mission was created by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to deflect attention from the horrific abuses of its member states and their supporters. In fact, according to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Goldstone’s mission was financed by the Arab League.
For his part, Goldstone went along with the farce. Where facts exonerating the IDF existed – whether from the UN, the Israeli Foreign Ministry or independent sources – Goldstone apparently ignored or twisted such evidence, choosing instead to credit Hamas sources.
Israeli NGOs played a central role in laying the foundation for Goldstone’s untenable report. During the fighting in Gaza, these groups issued nonstop allegations of “war crimes,” “collective punishment” and intentional murder of civilians. They delivered countless publications containing speculative and unconfirmed claims used to bolster the HRC’s predetermined conclusions. Much of the Goldstone Report was based directly on these inflammatory charges.
Rather than admit their role, these organizations now seek to absolve themselves of responsibility. While NGO assertions of Goldstone’s fairness are perhaps rooted in naiveté, the attempts by the NIF and its grantees to muzzle critics are far more pernicious. Since NGO Monitor first raised the issue of European government funding for supposedly “nongovernmental” organizations (many of which also receive financial and other support from the NIF), these groups have resorted to childish attacks. They have bizarrely characterized NGO Monitor as “extremist” and “right-wing” (whatever those terms mean), and complained that simply reporting on their funding and activities amounts to “repression of dissent.”
But the right of expression always comes with the potential for disapproval. It is strange that groups claiming to be so well-versed in human rights seem so unfamiliar with the concept of free speech.
These attacks must not divert attention from the massive power that NIF and its beneficiaries wield. NIF has an annual budget of $32 million. Its Israeli grantees also receive tens of millions annually from the EU, European governments, the US-based Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
NIF-funded NGOs regularly engage in public relations blitzes, often facilitated by professional media consultants. They hold press conferences, issue glossy publications in multiple languages, and contribute regular op-eds and articles to high-profile media outlets such as Ma’ariv, Haaretz, The New York Times, and Huffington Post. They regularly submit reports at the UN and send representatives to conferences in Europe and America. B’Tselem has a growing lobbying office in Washington and a representative in the UK.
NGO Monitor researchers have analyzed NIF funding practices for years. While the organization does some positive work in Israel that should be applauded, it refuses to engage in debate regarding several of its grantees that demonize Israel at the UN, support boycott and divestment campaigns, promote “lawfare” cases against Israeli officials, and even advocate erasing the Jewish character of the state. Significantly, many NIF donors are unaware of these activities. NIF has rebuffed all of NGO Monitor’s attempts to discuss appropriate “red lines” for the groups they fund.
Perhaps if NIF would stop name-calling and threatening lawsuits, the path would be open for a constructive debate about the role several NIF-supported NGOs have played in the demonization of Israel, and their exploitation by reactionary and totalitarian forces at the UN. Instead of blocking healthy discussion, NIF and its grantees should welcome this conversation – a conversation that would benefit NIF donors, the Israeli public and, ultimately, Israeli democracy.
The writer is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor.