Where Does the New Israel Fund's Money Go?

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For more than 30 years, the New Israel Fund, a group that strives for social justice and equality, has been trying to influence us, writes Yoaz Hendel. But their money comes from questionable sources, their goals are obscure and their low-profile worrisome, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that they handle.

For more than 30 years, the New Israel Fund (NIF) [with its objectives of Social Justice and equality for all Israelis] has been trying to influence us. Their money is from foreign sources; their goals, obscure; the hands [receiving the cash], 100% Israeli. $200 million in a small country like Israel packs a lot of clout: that’s big money which, in normal times, should attract a lot of attention. Although the NIF lives off its donors, it preferred to keep a low profile ever since its inception in 1979. This low-profile style was incongruous with the American character, and certainly with its Israeli target audience.

Then came the Cast Lead operation [also known as the Gaza war, which took place in the winter of 2008-2009] followed by the Goldstone Report [UN fact-finding commission led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, set to investigate alleged human rights violations during the Gaza war], and the public in Israel woke up. Suddenly it became clear that NGOs even have the ability to influence Israel’s status in the international arena, influence that allowed it to defame and mold the image of all of us [Israelis].

There was a long, long list of Israeli organizations that volunteered to place the blame on Israel during the few days during which Goldstone’s biased committee heard testimony. The common denominator of most of these organizations was their sources of money; high on the list was the money of the New Israel Fund. All at once, the NIF was transformed from an anonymous organization working behind the scenes, to a red flag. The campaign exposing NIF’s activities was orchestrated by a few youths from the [right-wing] ‘’Im Tirtzu’’ organization [founded in 2006]; donations from the Right against donations from the Left.

I was among those who did not like the flagrant style of the Im Tirtzu campaign — especially the demonic horns they planted on the head of the Fund’s President, Naomi Chazan. I was never keen over the type of direct attack on political rivals that portrayed them as wearing horns. The world is more complicated than the simplistic division between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, even when the New Israel Fund is involved. But to judge by the results, Im Tirtzu was successful. Im Tirtzu and other organizations succeeded in shedding light on the shadowy NIF, thus forcibly pulling them out of the closet against their will.

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In the two years that passed since then, I have encountered many Israelis with harsh criticism of the Fund. Some of the charges are more serious, some are less. The Fund’s exposure led many people to hate the organization, and spawned quite a few conspiracy theories. Some opponents view the NIF as trying to undermine the very foundations of the state; they feel that the hidden goal of those who donate to the fund is to liquidate Israel as a Jewish, democratic country. The Protocol of the Elders of the Radical Left. [In reference to the fraudulent ‘’Protocols of the elders of Zion,’’ used for ant-Semite propaganda purposes since its fabrication in the early 1900]. I am not convinced. The Fund remains an enigma to me: on the one hand, scandalous contributions to post-Zionist organizations that directly harm Israel; on the other hand, laudable social activities. The struggle against the de-legitimization phenomenon can easily turn into a wild goose chase. Superfluous demonization can do more harm than good.

One of the serious voices in the field is ‘’NGO Monitor’’ [a right-wing organization, its objective is to Monitor left-wing NGO’s resources]. For almost a decade, they have been following the Fund’s activities -- trying to understand, decipher, get to the bottom of it by using tools that have nothing to do with demons with horns. Their reports are scathing and incisive, but lacking in conspiracy theories. They deal only with numbers and facts.

On August 15, the NIF published its list of grants for 2011; it is not clear what is behind this delay. According to the data, 20% of the NIF’s funds ($3.5 million) were transferred to organizations involved in problematic political activity. Itai Reuveni’s report (NGO Monitor, [August 31]) displays the numbers in comparison to last year [2010] along with an analysis. 

It turns out that after the large wave of criticism, the NIF announced that it would stop supporting organizations calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. The recent report shows that three organizations of this type stopped receiving funds. By contrast, other organizations that operate in the gray area of the post-Zionist kingdom have started to receive money — a lot of money.

Thus, for example, the Human Right Defenders Fund received 224 thousand dollars this year. The organization declares that it supports non-violent activists on behalf of democracy. How do they carry out such a complex goal, and what do they do with so much money? They hire a director. To be more precise, a director by the name of Lizi Sagi. Sagi [was asked to] resigned in April 2010 from the B'Tselem organization, after she wrote that the IDF fallen Remembrance Day is a pornographic circus involving the elevating of bereavement and muzzling of mouths. In order to explain why it is such a terrible day, Sagi added that Israel causes humanity’s greatest atrocities and proves its adherence to Nazi values. It seems to me that Sagi’s words speak for themselves.

Another example of a problematic organization supported by the NIF is called ‘’Breaking the Silence’’ (Shovrim Shtika). Four years ago, I sat with the heads of the organization for a discussion. We had a lot in common. As someone who served as an IDF commander I believe in the purity of arms, in the importance of ethics even in war. The CEO of the organization, a former Education [non officer] commander, said that she viewed an arrest in Hebron with her own eyes, albeit from afar. She talked with great zeal about the importance of explaining to the Israelis from Tel Aviv — those who were not privy to the reality that she experienced for a whole two hours — what is really taking place there. If so, I asked, if your target is the Israelis, why do you translate these injustices into Spanish and English? Why not turn to the military prosecutor's office to ask them to investigate? I did not receive a satisfactory answer.

In mid-August, the organization launched a campaign with a new book [‘’Children and Youth – Soldiers’ testimonies 2001-2005’’] including testimonies, some of which are recycled, of IDF soldiers and the evils they perpetrate on Palestinian children in the territories. Here, too, they did not report the infuriating incidents to the military prosecutor's office. Their sole target was public relations.

This time, Breaking the Silence targeted far-off Australia — a country usually friendly to Israel. The headlines that appeared this week [August 28] did not put us in a positive light. Although one could make a case for [constructive] criticism of Israel, I find it hard to find any great merit in portraying IDF soldiers as war criminals. The [Australian] Jewish community protested the advertisements. Dr. Danny Lamm, head of the community, wrote a sharp letter against Breaking the Silence. So far, your typical Jewish internecine battles. But at this point, the NIF got involved — after all, they are the ones providing the cash. In a letter published on the NIF site, Breaking the Silence attacked Dr. Lamm. They asked, How can someone who did not lie in the trenches [- someone who did not serve in the Israeli army] tell us what to do and stick a knife in our back? Where do these Jews living abroad get such chutzpah (insolence)!! It seems that as far as they are concerned, contributions [from abroad] come across great in English, while criticism in English is far less welcome.

The New Israel Fund is still undecided. They are worried by the criticism, but not worried enough to take decisive steps. 

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Found in: new israel fund, ngo monitor, ngo, idf, donations, b'tselem
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