[Opinion] Repentance and atonement at the New Israel Fund
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For years, the leaders of the politically powerful New Israel Fund (NIF) have compounded their problems by ignoring their own errors and shifting the focus to whistle- blowers and research watchdogs, as scandal follows scandal.
In responding to more evidence of support for anti-Zionist causes, Rabbi Brian Lurie, who is taking over from Naomi Chazan as NIF president, again ignored these major problems.
He instead called for others to undertake cheshbon nefesh – soul searching (“The new leader of the New Israel Fund,” September 19, 2011) in the spirit of the Days of Awe. But in the Jewish tradition, this process starts at home, as each individual is responsible for accounting for his or her own activities.
The NIF’s problems begin with its highly secretive funding process for political and social groups in Israel, contributing to the lack of accountability and numerous blatantly false claims. In the past, officials declared that they had ended funding for the Coalition of Women for Peace, which, despite its name, is a leader in the BDS movement.
As NGO Monitor showed, NIF funding continued secretly for at least two additional years.
Instead of an angry attack on watchdogs such as NGO Monitor, Lurie could and should have apologized for false statements.
Now, Lurie has asserted that NIF has “repeatedly reported” that it no longer funds an Israeli-Arab political advocacy organization named Mada al- Carmel, a group that calls the “global spread of political discourse of two states for two people… regrettable.” In fact, this is the first such public statement by an NIF official – a potentially important, although belated, move by NIF to implement its own guidelines.
However, since the most recent financial report on NIF’s website is from 2010, and it lists a $100,000 donation to Mada al-Carmel, Lurie’s claim is impossible to independently verify. Israeli citizens, whose lives are greatly influenced by the decisions made by the distant NIF officials, are right to demand independent verification, rather than accepting statements on faith.
Lurie, who lives in San Francisco, also repeats the mantra that: “all organizations funded by or through NIF must meet our funding guidelines.” However, as NGO Monitor has repeatedly demonstrated in fully-sourced research, NIF supports a number of NGOs that violate the ban on support for groups that deny “the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel.” NIF funds groups that engage, to varying degrees, in delegitimization campaigns, including anti-Israel lawfare and BDS, as well as denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Lurie heaps praise on Adalah – a recipient of $500,000 of NIF funding in 2010 and a leader in international anti-Israel campaigns, including at the UN.
Adalah runs PR efforts calling for EU sanctions against Israel; supports legal cases against Israeli officials (lawfare); and wrote and edited large portions of a pseudo-academic study that called for another International Court of Justice advisory opinion to declare that Israel is an “apartheid” state.
Adalah’s denial of the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination is explicit.
Its 2007 “Democratic Constitution” and similar documents that call for a fundamental redefinition of Israel were recognized by NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch as violating NIF guidelines on Jewish sovereignty rights. Yet, earlier this month, Adalah’s Hassan Jabareen authored an op-ed entitled “Why Palestinians can’t recognize a ‘Jewish state,’” in which he pointed to the “Democratic Constitution” as a supposed expression of Jewish rights.
In defending huge budgets for groups such as Adalah, Lurie writes that “every organization funded by the New Israel Fund is a legal Israeli amuta (non-profit organization).”
This is both irrelevant and false.
Shatil is a major recipient of NIF grants, but has no legal status in Israel. NIF’s 2010 grants also include private companies which are subject to different accounting and reporting requirements. For example, $587,000 went to a private company named “Agenda.”
(The fact that NIF-Israel executive director Rachel Liel is a shareholder in this company may represent an improper conflict of interest.) Lurie’s sins of commission include his criticism of NGO Monitor, which began years ago as a project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, but has been independent since 2007. Lurie mistakenly refers to this organization as the “Jerusalem Council,” and awkwardly implies that NGO Monitor’s analyses should be ignored due to this link. Lurie could have avoided many mistakes with basic fact-checking: a quick visit to the NGO Monitor website will produce a list of our donors, contrary to his claims.
With so many errors, Rabbi Lurie’s call for repentance is appropriate, particularly for his own organization. The first step of repentance is identifying the sin. This is not a legalistic, mechanical exercise, but requires the individual to strip away the habit of denial that prevents accepting that he or she has sinned – that there is a problem.
As Rosh Hashana approaches and Lurie assumes a new leadership role, perhaps he will stop repeating the false claims supplied by NIF’s haphazard PR machine, recognize the problems, and open up the NIF to the accountability, transparency and honesty that they demand from others.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the Middle East. Naftali Balanson is managing editor.