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Analysis: For the New Israel Fund, Change Must Come From Within

In December, the New Israel Fund (NIF), in partnership with Ha’aretz, will hold a “Conference on Peace. On Democracy. On Social Justice” in New York. This gathering, according to NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch, is supposed to provide a platform for “a frank Israeli-American discussion” about issues relating to Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity. However, without proper introspection from NIF regarding its support for groups that contribute to the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, this gathering will be counterproductive.

NIF is a massive organization that supports multiple, varying efforts, including positive projects and initiatives that contribute to Israeli society. However, some of the NGOs backed by Jewish-American donations stray far from the NIF’s stated objectives of constructive engagement and progressive values.

NIF’s most visible grantees in Israel are fringe political groups such as Breaking the Silence, Adalah, and B’Tselem – organizations that, during the recent wave of terror attacks against Israelis, minimized the threats facing Israeli citizens and repeated Palestinian narratives of Israeli guilt.

For instance, on October 8, a week after the terror intensified, Adalah (NIF authorized grants in 2008-2014: $1,874,656) hosted a three-day “Arab Law Students’ Conference.” On the first day, Adalah showed the students a presentation from the Civil Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem on the topic of “Israel’s attempts to Judaize [Jerusalem] and alter its historical Palestinian Character.” In other words, in the midst of massive Palestinian incitement over the Temple Mount and terror attacks, Adalah chose to work with a pro-BDS NGO to deny Jewish historical connections to Jerusalem.

Adalah also demonizes Israel internationally. On October 15, Adalah’s newly-appointed “USA representative,” Nadia Ben Youssef, joined a panel in Washington, D.C., dedicated to “making the case for Palestinian right of return.” Addressing a Capitol Hill audience that included congressional aides, Adalah was joined by the leading BDS group “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,” as well as anti-Israel activist Noura Erakat.

Adalah’s appointment of a representative to the United States violates a basic NIF principle: “the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability and ensure that those who break or circumvent Israeli laws are brought to justice in Israel” (emphasis added). However, Adalah and its funder-enablers apparently see the United States, not Israel, as the place “where change needs to happen.”

Adalah has not been the only NIF grantee to cooperate with international partners hostile to Israel since the recent intensification of terror against Israeli citizens. In October, Breaking the Silence (NIF authorized grants in 2008-2014: $699,310) went to Scotland as part of their continuous world tour to promote anonymous accusations against the Israeli Defense Forces.

While Israeli civilians were being brutally attacked in the streets, Yehuda Shaul, Breaking the Silence’s founder and “foreign relations director,” spoke in Glasgow at an event organized by the British NGOs Medical Aid for Palestinians and Christian Aid Scotland. His topic: anonymous allegations of Israeli “war crimes” during the 2014 Gaza conflict.

This is standard operating procedure for the tiny group of activists that run this NGO. Despite receiving funding in order to address Israeli society, Breaking the Silence’s lobbying and media advocacy campaigns focus primarily on international audiences, including appearances in France, Norway, Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S. These events feature anonymous testimonies stripped of the context of brutal warfare and terrorism targeting Israelis.

All of this clearly violates NIF’s mission, and NIF-Israel CEO Rachel Liel even stated in a radio interview that she “also does not agree with everything Breaking the Silence does.” However, this muted criticism has no impact, and the NIF money train keeps on rolling.

Given all of these problems, and more, it is not surprising that many in Israel do not see the NIF as a positive force, to understate the case. For them, Sokatch’s claim that the NIF will “engage in honest debate about Israel’s most difficult issues” rings hollow while the fund’s grantees continue to demonize Israel.

So what vision of Israel will NIF present to New Yorkers in December? Previous NIF and Ha’aretz collaborations of this sort have not exactly been hallmarks of “honest debate.” In 2014, then Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett was heckled and physically assaulted at an event in Tel Aviv – much to the dismay of organizers, who apologized for the incident. In February of this year, many politicians refused to participate in Ha’aretz‘s Conference on Democracy because of NIF’s involvement. Even Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Israeli political party Shas, whose socio­economic platform is both progressive and in line with NIF’s vision of economic justice, canceled his planned attendance.

Maybe the upcoming gathering will be different. The planned NIF session, with its partners, participants, and backers, has the opportunity to truly impact the future of Israel for the better. However, potential isn’t enough. For change to happen, it must start from within – and the first step is asking tough, introspective questions.

Aaron Kalman is responsible for foreign media relations at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.

[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]