Yoaz Hendel's column on the New Israel Fund
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Yoaz Hendel, “Free Kick,” Yediot Ahronot Weekend Magazine, August 31, 2012
Translation by NGO Monitor
For over 30 years, the New Israel Fund (NIF) has been working to influence us. While the money is foreign and the objectives vague, the agents are strictly Israeli. Two hundred million dollars provides a lot of influence in a small country like Israel. This is big money, which is attracting a lot of attention these days. NIF is donor-based, and still, since its founding in 1979, they have chosen to keep a low profile, a form of modesty that is out of character for American donors, as well as for the Israeli target audience.
Then operation “Cast Lead” (Dec. 2008 – Jan. 2009 Gaza conflict) happened, followed by the Goldstone report, and the Israeli public woke up. Suddenly, it turned out that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have the ability to influence Israel’s standing in the international arena, and that it is possible to defame and refashion our image there. There is a long list of Israeli NGOs that volunteered to denounce Israel in the few days that the biased Goldstone commission collected testimonies. Most of them had a common denominator – their funding sources, specifically funding from NIF. Instantly, NIF transformed from an anonymous organization working behind the scenes to a red flag. The campaign was orchestrated by a few youngsters from the Im Tirzu organization. Donations from the right versus donations from the left.
There were some who didn’t like the vitriolic style of the Im Tirzu campaign, including the demonic horns they drew on Naomi Chazan’s head. I was among them in certain respects. I was never excited by direct attacks on political adversaries, and tagging the enemy with horns. The world is much more complex than “sons of light” and “sons of darkness,” even regarding NIF. In the end, they succeeded. Im Tirzu and others succeeded in shedding light on the dark fund, and forced it out of the closet.
In the two years since that campaign, I have met many Israelis with damning claims against NIF. Some are serious, some are not. Along with the exposure came a lot of detractors and quite a few conspiracy theories. Some perceive NIF as trying to undermine the state’s foundations, as hiding its ambition to eliminate Israel as a Jewish-democratic state behind its donations. The protocols of the elders of the extreme left. I was not convinced. NIF is still a mystery to me. On the one hand, it makes outrageous donations to post-Zionist organizations that directly harm Israel; on the other hand, admirable social activity. The struggle against the de-legitimization phenomenon can easily become ghosts-chasing, and over-demonization can incur more costs than benefits.
One of the serious voices dealing with this subject is NGO Monitor. For over a decade they have been monitoring NIF activity, trying to understand, analyze, and use tools that are not driven by ghosts and horned demons. Their reports are hard hitting, and completely free of conspiracy theories. They deal with facts and figures, quotes, and calls for boycotts. A week ago, NIF published its 2011 list of financial grants. The report was fashionably late, the reason for that being unclear. According to the report, 20% of NIF funds ($3.5 million dollars) were disbursed to organizations that take part in problematic political activity. In a report by Itai Reuveni of NGO Monitor, the 2011 numbers are displayed with a comparison to the previous year’s numbers, accompanied by compelling analysis.
After the big wave of criticism, NIF announced that it would stop supporting organizations calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. The latest report shows that three of these organizations did stop receiving funding. On the other hand, NGOs working in the grey area of the post-Zionist realm started to get money, and lots of it.
For example, the “Human Rights Defenders Fund” received $224,000 in 2011. The organization states that it supports non-violent activists for the sake of democracy, freedom, and social equality in Israel and the territories it occupies. How do you handle such a complex task, and what to do with such a large sum of money? You hire a director. More specifically, one named Lizi Sagi. In April 2010, Sagi resigned from the NGO B’Tselem after writing that Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers is a pornographic circus, glorifying grief and silencing voices. In order to explain why it is such a horrible day, Sagi added that Israel is the cause of humanity’s biggest atrocities and is devoted to Nazi values. These words speak for themselves.
Another example of problematic support is the NGO Breaking the Silence. Four years ago, I sat down for a talk with the heads of the organization. As one who served as an IDF commander, I believe in the importance of purity of arms and in the importance of morality during war. The CEO of Breaking the Silence – who served as a non-commissioned education officer in the IDF – said that she once saw from afar, with her own eyes, an arrest in Hebron. She talked passionately about the need to explain to Israelis from Tel Aviv, those who did not know the reality that she experienced there for two hours, what is really happening there. If so, I asked, why do you translate those injustices into Spanish and English if the target audience is Israelis? Why not go to the Military Advocate General (MAG) for investigations? I did not get a good answer.
Last week, the organization launched a campaign with a new book, containing partially recycled testimonies by IDF soldiers on the injustices that Palestinian children experience in the territories. In this case as well, they did not take the outrageous testimonies to the MAG for investigation. The sole objective was public relations. This time, Breaking the Silence went all the way to Australia – a country that is usually friendly to Israel. The headlines that were published there last week did not do us well. You can call it criticism for the benefit of Israel, but I wouldn’t consider portraying IDF soldiers as war criminals a big contribution. The Jewish community undestood this and protested against the publications – Dr. Danny Lamm, the head of the community, wrote a scathing letter against Breaking the Silence. This was all part of a typical “Jewish war.” Only that at this point, NIF, the ones with the money, got involved. In a letter published on the NIF website, Breaking the Silence attacked Dr. Lamm. “How can someone who hasn’t laid in ambushes tell us what to do, stab a knife in our back?” they asked. Where do these foreign Jews get the nerve? Apparently, for them, English-speaking donors are welcome, while English-speaking criticism is not. NIF still hasn’t decided; it appears that the criticism worries them, but not enough to be decisive.