A number of examples have highlighted the inconsistency between the New Israel Fund’s mission statement emphasizing social objectives, and some of its funding activities for NGOs and individuals with highly politicized and conflictual agendas. In April 2005, NIF responded to a detailed NGO Monitor analysis on its funding for Shamai Leibowitz (an advocate of sanctions against Israel) by publicly disassociating the organization from the activities of this grantee. Similarly, NIF officials sought to distance themselves from the actions of the Arab Association for Human Rights (for which NIF serves as a conduit for designated donations), in promoting the anti-Israel divestment campaign. Despite declarations acknowledging that such agendas are “inconsistent with those of NIF and … not helpful to the causes NIF seeks to promote”, this policy has not changed.
Beginning in the Fall of 2004, NIF awarded a 10-month grant to Joseph (Joe) Berman, in the form of a New Israel Fund/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship (Link has expired) in memory of the late Richard J. Israel, who served for many years as the Hillel rabbi at Yale University and UCLA. The fellowships honor Rabbi Israel’s “social and Jewish values in Israel” by providing an “in-depth learning experience” and enabling recipients to “contribute their talents towards furthering social justice in Israel.” Fellows receive a stipend to work for 32 hours per week in an Israeli not-for-profit framework, focusing their activities on areas of social concern such as “pursuing environmental justice,” “advancing the status of women,” and “fostering tolerance and religious pluralism.”
Under this NIF fellowship, Berman’s activities took place in the political frameworks of the International Solidarity Movement and Jeff Halper’s ICAHD framework, which uses terms such as "apartheid" and "war crimes" to refer to Israeli policy against Palestinian terror, supports a "one state solution", and advocates sanctions and boycotts. NIF had previously supported ICAHD directly, but after this NGO’s anti-Israel agenda and rhetoric were highlighted, this open funding was halted. Fellowships for interns provide the means for subsidizing ICAHD’s work indirectly.
Berman’s role was documented by other activists, as well as by his own internet blog contributions. A posting on the Orthodox Anarachist (Link has expired) blog states: “My flatmate Joseph, who is a New Israel Fund fellow, regularly gives tours of certain areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as part of his responsibilities as a volunteer with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions….” (This report includes photos of the Israeli separation “wall” and of other tour highlights.) Another website (Link has expired) posts a report from a participant in one of Berman’s Ramallah tours, sponsored by ICAHD According to this source, Berman lives in Ramallah with other radical activists. These include “an Israeli named ‘Laser,’ who is a member of the Israeli group, ‘Anarchists Against the Wall,’ and Lisa, a member of the International Solidarity Movement.” Some of the participants in Berman’s activities were part of the “Birthright unplugged” movement which was developed in cooperation with the International Solidarity Movement with the goal of showcasing the “Palestinian narrative” of the conflict to Jewish students.
In March 2005, Berman led a tour of East Jerusalem for the International Committee of Ramallah Friends, a group of pro-Palestinian Quakers based in Baltimore in the US. The official summary noted that “Our guide was Joseph Berman, American born Jew, on the staff of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.” Based on Berman’s presentations, this summary focused on “the Wall”, which was described as “the last attempt of the Israeli authorities to destroy not only the land, but to destroy the economy, culture, and the social structure of Palestinian society”. Following the same political line, in June 2005, Berman spoke to Anglican participants of an Amos Trust Pilgrimage to the Holy Land “about prayer and how it really sustains him after a demo or after he had been tear-gassed, or seen Palestinians shot with rubber bullets”.
Berman also led a tour for the Scottish band, Belle and Sebastian, in cooperation with the UK-based NGO War on Want. (In August 2005, WoW received a warning from the Charities Commission regarding its radical political activities.) An article by Nick Dearden (WoW’s senior campaign officer) describes how Berman “showed us the Jerusalem settlements from a Palestinian basketball court, the end of which had been demolished, for no apparent reason other than to ensure the local kids had no sports ground to play on. He told us that settlement expansions were often built on top of bulldozed Palestinian homes. He repeated the words of an Anata resident, whose house has been demolished four times: ‘It is a quiet transfer policy, such actions say one thing: Leave this place.’” ((“Heroes on the Faultline of the Global Apartheid”, Counterpunch, June 10/12, 2005) [An advertisement for the book 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, written by Lenni Brenner, appears on the same page with this article].
Berman’s own internet contributions provide direct evidence of his agenda. On the jewschool.com blog, Berman wrote a laudatory posting about ICAHD support for anti-Israel sanctions. And in a December 2004 article posted on the ICAHD website Berman described his work on behalf of ICAHD in detail, presenting a standard Palestinian perspective and narrative, while again erasing the context of the terrorism campaign that resulted in the Israeli government’s policies.
This evidence regarding NIF’s funding policies speaks for itself. And the implications are important, not only in view of NIF’s past record of support for the political agendas of NGOs, but also in evaluating its $20 million partnership with the Ford Foundation. Following the response to Ford’s direct responsibility for funding many of the NGOs that led the 2001 Durban conference and anti-Israel demonization campaign, this organization issued new guidelines to avoid similar abuses. NIF donors and board members might now discuss creating their own guidelines and mechanisms for preventing the funding of extremist political activities. They might also consider the fundamental inconsistency between Richard Israel’s legacy and the agenda promoted through the NIF fellowship in his name and awarded to Joseph Berman.