Larry Garber
Executive Director
New Israel Fund

Dear Mr. Garber,

The prominent posting on NIF’s home page of a defamatory blog attack on NGO Monitor in “muzzlewatch” can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid honest criticism and suppress discussion of issues that are central to Israel and the Jewish community.  NIF is a very influential and controversial force in Israel – in many important areas, far more influential than the government — and NIF officials should not be immune to open debate and criticism.  Instead of using muzzlewatch to prevent this discussion, NIF’s many donors and the citizens of Israel deserve a more credible response to these questions.

The blog posting on NGO Monitor commits numerous sins of omission and commission, distorting facts and manipulating quotes.  In contrast to this cartoon version, we suggest that donors read NGO Monitor’s carefully documented analyses, based on the consistent application of the universality of human rights, and draw their own conclusions.

The blog attack quotes heavily from Leonard Fein’s attempt to impugn the accuracy of NGO Monitor’s analysis of Human Rights Watch’s anti-Israel campaigning and lack of credibility.  Fein’s ideological enthusiasm in defense of Ken Roth, and his lack of knowledge, caused him to get the facts wrong. Joshua Muravchik examined the details, concluding: “After NGO Monitor issued a report documenting HRW’s bias, I asked HRW for its response. Roth sent me an e-mail contradicting NGO Monitor’s numbers and inviting me to ‘check [HRW’s website] if you’re so inclined."  … After hours of searching, I discovered that HRW had expunged 5 of the records, sanitizing its own website to reduce the number of items listed for Israel.” (On Human Rights Watch, etc., The Weekly Standard, 9/23/2006; Human Rights Watch vs. Human Rights, The Weekly Standard, 9/11/2006)

One third of NIF’s annual budget fund goes to more than 20 organizations claiming to promote “civil rights” for Israel’s Arab minority. The analogy resonates among American donors (and Jimmy Carter), but the situation is entirely different. These NGOs use NIF money to demonize and delegitimize Israel.  Adallah, Mousawa and others submit papers to the UN accusing Israel of apartheid, referring to Zionism as racism, and distributing an alternative constitution for Israel that would abolish the concept of a Jewish state. The NIF is responsible for “empowering” the most radical rejectionist voices and giving them the resources to dominate the discussion.

The same is true for NIF’s support for groups such as ICAHD, and for Shamai Leibowitz, (not Liebowitz  — muzzlewatch could use a fact checker).  As shown in the NGO Monitor brief, in November 2004 while an NIF Law Fellow, Leibowitz testified before the Somerville City Council in favor of economic sanctions and divestment.  In parallel to the terror campaign in Israeli cities, Leibowitz declared, "divestment resolutions are an effective remedy for the severe violence plaguing the Israelis and the Palestinians for 37 years." Leibowitz said that the IDF committed war crimes as "daily occurrences," and he condemned the peace process as "an excuse to divert world attention away from the infliction of suffering, humiliation and destruction upon the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories."  In March, 2005, Leibowitz published an article in The Nation claiming that "international law mandates the use of sanctions to force Israel to comply with UN resolutions and human rights treaties". Leibowitz also praised the Presbyterian Church and World Council of Churches for their divestment efforts against the Jewish state. 

Based on the analysis published by NGO Monitor, NIF belatedly disassociated itself from Leibowitz, and (following the HRW precedent), erased his name from the list of fellows.  But Israelis have to live with consequences of this and other mistakes. In response, the authors of the muzzlewatch version complain that “The NIF, feeling the heat from some of its sponsors for such a relatively controversial stand by Leibowitz did attempt to distance itself, which was not a brave move, but a fairly typical response from mid-level professionals when threatened with a loss of funding.”

The strategic pact between NIF and the self-styled “Jewish Voice for Peace” (the organization responsible for “muzzlewatch”) should itself be a source of concern for donors.  JVP is on the extreme fringe of the political spectrum (as an NIF fellow, Shamai Leibowitz was also a co-director). Their publications trivialize terror and incitement, share the Palestinian version of history erasing Arab rejectionism, blame Israel exclusively for decades of violence, and promote the boycotts of Israel (“proponents of boycotts and sanctions are motivated by the profound sense that nothing else has worked to pressure Israel to end human rights abuses”).  JVP also supports Ilan Pappe – the radical Israeli academic who uses false accusations of war crimes — and gives the façade of Jewish legitimacy to the Durban strategy of demonizing Israel through the rhetoric of human rights, without the substance. The alliance with JVP reinforces the widespread perception among Israelis of NIF as an arrogant and anti-democratic organization which exploits its money and power to impose a radical ideology.

Instead of these polemics, distortions and false accusations, NIF officials, board members and donors should welcome an honest public discussion of the positive activities, such as support for reconstruction after the 2006 Lebanon War, and where the mistakes are made.  Support for the ideological exploitation of moral principles including universal human rights, as a weapon against Israel only weakens these values.  NGO Monitor’s careful analyses provide the basis for such a discussion, and we look forward to a civil and constructive discussion on these important issues.

Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director