NGO funding provided by the New Israel Fund (NIF) has a major impact on Israeli politics and society. As documented by NGO Monitor, approximately one-third of its annual budget of $31 million goes to highly politicized groups involved in campaigns regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as Adalah, Mossawa, Mada al-Carmel, the Coalition of Women for Peace, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Yesh Din, and others. These organizations also receive substantial funding from European governments, whose officials often cite NIF’s “approval” as justification for promoting the NGO agendas and campaigns.
The central role of NIF-funded groups in the Goldstone report, and other indictments based on false allegations of “war crimes,” highlighted the core contradictions in the funding policies of an organization that proclaims its commitment to Zionism and love for Israel. NIF leaders initially denied responsibility, but donor protests and media criticism increased. In February 2010, NGO Monitor called on the New Israel Fund (NIF) to implement clear “red lines” regarding the funding of NGO activities and rhetoric, in particular to prevent support for the “Durban strategy” of isolating Israel internationally. In this vein, NGO Monitor formulated proposed “Ethical Guidelines for the New Israel Fund,” which were sent to NIF board members in advance of the June 28 NIF board meeting in Israel.
On September 19, 2010, the New Israel Fund (NIF) published new funding guidelines on its website. For the first time, the organization declared that groups that violate core principles “will no longer be eligible” for funding. These principles include: participating in “partisan political activity,” promoting “violence or use violent tactics,” and working “to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel, or to deny the rights of Palestinian or other non-Jewish citizens to full equality within a democratic Israel.” This language closely tracks the language proposed by NGO Monitor, suggesting that the majority of NIF’s board agreed with the need for clear and transparent “red lines.”
However, since the initial report, a number of NIF officials have made confusing and contradictory public statements, suggesting that the guidelines are not new, and that they will not be implemented to reverse the anti-Israel NGO activities resulting for NIF’s funding policies. In addition, no timetable or implementation mechanism has been published, raising further questions, as noted in NGO Monitor’s analysis and in media reports.
Confusion and/or Spin?
On September 16, 2010, in a JTA report published shortly before Yom Kippur, the guidelines were presented as a fundamental change in NIF’s funding policies. NIF Director Daniel Sokatch told the news agency that NIF “would prohibit proposals for a binational constitution of the kind that two NIF grantees submitted several years ago.” (The grantees in question, Adalah and Mossawa, each proposed constitutions in 2007 calling for Israel to abandon its definition as a Jewish state. NIF grantee Mada al-Carmel’s “Haifa Declaration” is similar.)
However, on September 20, NIF appeared to backtrack. Itzik Shanan, NIF-Israel’s director of communications, said that “recent reports about a change in NIF policy are mistaken” (“NIF denies plans to change funding policies,” Jerusalem Post). In an Israeli radio interview, NIF-Israel Director Rachel Liel announced a different formulation, stating that if a grantee “would act, not say something, but act in a significant way against this principle (definition of Israel as a Jewish state), and others of the NIF, I presume that [it] would not receive a grant.” The implications of Liel’s words remain unclear.
Then, in a later JTA story, Sokatch “clarif[ied]” that, in the cases of Adalah or Mada al-Carmel, a text denying Israel’s Jewish character “would have to be central to an organization’s activities in order to result in a suspension of funding, and that NIF would be the one to make the determination over whether or not that threshold had been reached.” This seemed to provide a “back door” which might allow NIF to continue funding for these and other radical political organizations.
Other NIF officials repeated the old formulas. Communications Director Naomi Paiss stated that “we will continue to fund the organizations we have always funded conditional on their continuing to do the excellent work they do,” and “we fund groups with whom we have philosophical disagreements as long as they are furthering our objectives — civil and human rights, social justice, religious pluralism.”
Such contradictory comments from NIF officials have created more confusion than clarity, leaving the question of what, if anything, has actually changed in terms of funding guidelines.
NGO Monitor’s Analysis
As noted in the Jerusalem Post (“NIF denies plans to change funding policies,” September 20, 2010) and other media reports, including the Hebrew media, NGO Monitor has played a central role in research and analysis on the NIF and on the activities of its grantees. In the JTA (“NIF changes funding guidelines, but what does it mean?” September 21, 2010), Ron Kampeas reported that:
Critics, led by NGO Monitor, an organization set up to track nongovernmental groups it says undermine Israel, said that NIF, wittingly or not, was allowing itself to be sucked into a movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel as racist in the hopes of replacing it with a binational or Palestinian state.
Kampeas quoted NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg’s analysis of the developments:
“The question is how is it going to be implemented — when and how — and how the internal battles are going to be resolved,” said Steinberg.
In the wake of the contradictions and confusion from NIF officials, and the evidence of ongoing internal conflict over how to deal with the role that NIF has played in funding NGO delegitimization activities, it is clear that the NIF guidelines remain tentative, at best. Questions over how, when, and whether the NIF will continue to provide funding and legitimacy to NGOs behind the “apartheid,” “one state,” BDS, lawfare, and other campaigns remain as salient as before.
NGO Monitor will continue to provide research and analysis of NIF funding for highly politicized NGOs, in order to give donors, Israeli citizens and elected officials, journalists, and others an independent, reliable and systematic source of information on these important issues.