Peace in the Middle East may be a distant notion, but peace between the New Israel Fund and NGO Monitor over funding issues may have already arrived, or at least a stronger cease-fire.
The hardest thing about following the funding debate between the NIF and NGO Monitor, most recently reignited in a Jerusalem Post interview with NIF President Brian Lurie, is figuring out where the battle lines are drawn.
During the interview, Lurie defended NIF’s funding principles, but also hit back at NGO Monitor for allegedly not listing its donors.
A quick review of NGO Monitor’s website reveals a list of four donors, as well as a separate list of donors for its major patron Research + Evaluation = Promoting Organizational Responsibility and Transparency (REPORT).
In addition to Lurie, other groups have made similar accusations, asserting that the NGO Monitor list does not claim to be comprehensive and that it does not list amounts.
Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said that this argument is a “red herring.”
He said that the “total amount of funding NGO Monitor receives is posted online in its financial statements,” and that the list is as comprehensive as necessary to give the full picture.
Steinberg added that NGO Monitor is not hiding massive amounts of funding coming from hidden organizations, and said that the attacks on NGO Monitor were really “a move to change the subject” from the two issues which he considered the real battlefield.
Anne Herzberg, legal adviser to NGO Monitor, said some of the organization’s critics “have a fantasy, that everything is rooted in a grand right-wing conspiracy that doesn’t exist.”
Steinberg said that one of the two real issues does not touch either NIF or NGO Monitor – the question of receiving funds from foreign governments.
NGO Monitor heavily criticizes various NIF-funded organizations like Yesh Din and Adalah for receiving foreign government funds, saying that kind of funding influences the internal Israeli discourse in a way that is more problematic than funds from the private sector.
But during his interview, Lurie implied that NIF would view any attacks on organizations it heavily funds as implicit attacks on its work.
This appears to be one reason why critics might compare the funding disclosure practices of NGO Monitor and the organizations that NIF funds.
Some of the NIF-supported organizations attacked by NGO Monitor for heavy foreign state funding have also counterattacked, claiming that NGO Monitor’s data was faulty. There has been a backand- forth exchange over where official data should be taken from (organizations’ websites or the state registrar) and when different disputed reports between the sides were posted on different websites.
But this issue then morphs into fighting on another battlefield: Politics.
If NIF and other critics allege that NGO Monitor only scrutinizes the funding of left-wing organizations and not right-wing organizations, harming its claim to objectivity, the organization would respond that it scrutinizes all foreign funding, but that the issue has only arisen in in regards to left-wing groups.
Steinberg also said that organizations he criticizes not only have foreign state funding, but also have private sector funding that is comparable to that received by right-wing groups, meaning it is not just a question of the Left getting foreign state funds and the Right getting private sector funds.
The second “main” issue flagged by Steinberg is his criticism of NIF for currently or previously funding organizations involved in compiling evidence for the Goldstone Report, in boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel or in organizations that undermine the idea of Israel as a specifically Jewish state.
Speaking to the Post, Lurie said that NIF does not fund BDS-related groups. He took exception to the idea that it would need to defund groups which criticize the IDF to improve it, or which support Israel as a “state of all of its citizens,” even if NIF supports Israel as a “Jewish state.”
In spite of all of the above, Steinberg said that he gave credit to Lurie for dropping some NIF funding recipients because of what he called their “polarizing” activities.
He also credited Lurie for leading the organization in a more centrist and less radical direction than his predecessor, Naomi Chazan (who Steinberg said had “used NIF as an alternate political base which demonized” aspects of Israel’s actions).
Lurie, in turn, made one official statement on Monday night, saying: “After being contacted by Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, I am now aware that there is a donor list on the NGOM website.”
Will everyone now join hands and sing kumbaya? Probably not.
But the open channel between the men at the top, Lurie and Steinberg, and the lightning-fast resolution of the issue, with an email to the Post copying Steinberg, was strikingly different than any reported relations between Chazan and her critics.
Lurie’s leadership and direction of NIF may in fact be succeeding in significantly altering how the organization is treated by its critics, and in ways that go beyond mere style.
That does not mean that Steinberg will not be on the watch for what NGO Monitor views as problematic activities by NIF-funded groups, but any war that can be ended as fast as this one was, signals that at least a stronger cease-fire may have set in.