On October 23, 2012, Haaretz published a highly distorted article based on of a poll of 503 people under the headline, “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel.” The very problematic “push” (manipulative) poll, provided as the basis for the article written by Gideon Levy, received a great deal of attention, and the analysis was copied immediately by The Guardian, the Jewish Chronicle (later removed from the website), and other media platforms, including those involved in anti-Israel demonization and BDS. In contrast, critical comments highlighted the faulty methodology used in the poll, the blatantly manipulative nature of the questions, and Gideon Levy’s selective interpretations.
In this context, the role of the New Israel Fund (NIF) became a significant issue. The original English version in Haaretz stated, “The survey was commissioned by the New Israel Fund’s Yisraela Goldblum Fund.”1 (Mention of the NIF was removed in a revised version.) The Hebrew version made no mention of the NIF; instead, the text noted that the Israela Goldblum Fund was “established in 2007 as part of the framework of the non-profit ‘Signing Anew’.”
Recognizing the controversy and criticism, NIF-Israel quickly distanced itself from Levy’s article and the poll, posting a statement claiming that “‘Signing Anew’ is an independent organization…not affiliated with the NIF…NIF clarifies that it was not behind the survey published this morning in Haaretz, and that it is not connected to it in any way.” In addition, NIF’s Deputy Communication Director Noam Shelef penned an op-ed on the Open Zion blog (That Poll’s Apartheid Problem, October 23, 2012), calling Levy’s column a “misrepresentation of the data.”
However, as the evidence shows, the relationship between NIF, Signing Anew, and this controversy is more complex than acknowledged in the statement, and adds to the questions that have been raised regarding NIF’s decision making and due diligence in awarding grants and supervising the activities of politicized grantees. In particular, NGO Monitor notes that:
Until 2010, Signing Anew was included on NIF’s Financial Statements with the notation that “NIF and Signing Anew have related Board members and staff such that NIF has oversight of Signing Anew.” In NIF’s 2010 Financial Statement, Signing Anew (although listed as a grantee) was not included in the balance, which stated “At December 31, 2010, NIF did not have oversight and did not combine the activities from Signing Anew.”
2) Shared employees/board members. In 2010, four members of Signing Anew’s board and staff were also affiliated with NIF. These individuals are Elah Alkalay, the Chair of Signing Anew’s Board of Directors and a Board Member at NIF; Maya Shraga-Albalak, Treasurer (and authorized signatory) of Signing Anew and CFO Israel for NIF; Susan Bougess-Sawicki, Board Member (and authorized signatory) of Signing Anew and Director of International Relations in Israel for NIF; and Ellen Goldberg, a Board Member of Signing Anew and former Executive Director of NIF-UK. (Information on 2011 was not found on relevant websites, including Signing Anew. According to NIF correspondence with NGO Monitor, three of the four are no longer affiliated with both NIF and Signing Anew, and the fourth “will soon be vacating” her position on the Signing Anew board.)
In addition, Amiram Goldblum, founder of the Israela Goldblum Fund which paid for the poll, is a member of NIF’s International Council.
3) NIF’s “peace and civil rights activists” formulated the questions. The questions used in this poll were formulated by individuals closely connected to NIF and its grantees. One, Michael Sfard, is legal counsel for a number of NIF grantees, including Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, and Human Rights Defenders Fund. Another, Alon Liel (a former Israeli MFA official and ambassador to South Africa) is married to NIF’s Executive Director in Israel, Rachel Liel. Mordechai Bar-On and Ilan Baruch, who are also named as involved in constructing the poll language, are also members of NIF’s International Council.
NIF: Failure in due diligence highlights the need for transparency and reform
While NIF claims to have no responsibility for these events, as the funder and initiator of the NGO “Signing Anew,” with close overlap among personnel, this claim is misleading. The statement issued by NIF disavowing any involvement is inadequate and should be followed by full disclosure and an independent inquiry, in accordance with professional practice. Just as NIF takes credit when its grantees impact positively on Israel, so too, NIF must take responsibility when its grantees do serious damage.
As documented by NGO Monitor, in the cases of other NIF grantees (past and current) involved in demonization and the Durban Strategy (CWP, Mada al-Carmel, ICAHD, +972, Breaking the Silence, etc.), this example highlights the need for a complete review of NIF grant-making, far greater transparency — including on the part of grantees — and other fundamental changes in the organization.