The NIF: Gerald Steinberg adds his voice
Gerald Steinberg is currently visiting Australia. The Chairman of the Political Studies Department at the Bar Ilan University in Israel writes on the New Israel Fund and its connections to the NGOs alleged to have furnished a reported 92% of the data used in the Goldstone Report.
Steinberg is also the Executive Director of the NGO Monitor, an organisation which tracks the activities of NGOs. He is also a consultant to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sits on the Dvisory Board of the Israeli Law Review.
from Gerald Steinberg
THE NEW ISRAEL FUND AND GOLDSTONE
Gerald M. Steinberg
The weekend edition of Ma’ariv – one of Israel’s mass-circulation daily newspapers – featured a scathing condemnation of the New Israel Fund for leading the political war to demonise Israel. The journalist (Ben Caspit) is a political centrist whose tolerance snapped when he realised that the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) funded by the NIF were responsible for most of the “war crimes” allegations in the UN’s Goldstone report on the Gaza war.
Caspit’s article amplified the Israeli debate on the role of the NIF – a Diaspora-based superpower with an annual budget of around $25 million. The accusations were publicised by “Im Tirtzu”, a student group promoting Zionist renewal, which also placed ads in newspapers (including the Jerusalem Post) and on websites ridiculing the organisation and its leader – Naomi Chazan.
Like other politicians whose power is threatened, Chazan and the NIF leadership responded furiously, denying the evidence and threatening legal action. However, having themselves used personal and crude graphics against opponents, the threats from Chazan and NIF lacked credibility. While claiming to defend free speech, NIF’s fierce attacks on critics were themselves attempts to silence a much-needed public debate.
Israeli anger towards NIF also reflects the discovery of a hidden agenda, in contrast to Im Tirzu and other openly more right-wing organisations. In its advertising and fund-raising, NIF claims to provide broad support for different groups in Israel, but many of its actions promote a very narrow and radical agenda. The most politicised NGOs – including B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel — receive about 20 percent of NIF’s budget. They use these funds to manipulate Israeli politics, while exploiting human rights rhetoric to demonise responses to terror. These NGOs also “partner” with some of the most hostile foreign groups, using their clout in the media and the United Nations to promote the political assault on Israel’s legitimacy, as seen in the Goldstone campaign.
Some of the budget for NIF’s funding for these radical NGOs comes from the Ford Foundation. The fiasco of the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, which was financed in large part by Ford, led to an investigation in the US Congress. Ford officials agreed to end direct support for these NGOs, but quietly provided large sums money ($US40 million to date) to the NIF. Similarly, NIF’s role is cited by European governments and, until recently, by Canada (via CIDA and “Rights and Democracy”), in justifying the flow of taxpayer funds to the same NGOs that systematically attack Israeli policies.
As a result, for most Israelis, the NGOs nurtured by NIF, Ford, and Europe constitute a powerful and entirely undemocratic opposition force. As the head of NIF, Naomi Chazan wields more power than she had as a member of the Knesset, before being rejected by the voters. She and other NGO officials, funded from the outside, are very visible in the media, in lobbying the Knesset, and in bombarding the courts in order to impose their ideology. The very controversial decision to re-open route 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Palestinian vehicles was largely the result of pressure from these NGOs. When the first Israeli is attacked due to this decision, NIF officials and donors will be blamed.
For all of these reasons, the NIF is in deep trouble, and officials would be well advised to join, rather than attack different voices, in developing funding guidelines, and by ending patronising attempts to impose their private agendas on the rest of us. Among the over 300 grants given by NIF, many go to schools and other worthy projects, but many Israelis view this as a cover for the more sinister political agenda.
As the fierce debate demonstrates, with so much money and influence, outside power-brokers from all parts of the political and ideological spectrum have the obligation to provide far more transparency, accountability and diversity. Israelis have lost patience with the campaigns to manipulate their critical choices, and to promote Goldstone-type demonisation. If NIF officials do not get the message and make these changes voluntarily, Israel’s elected officials will exercise their right and their obligation to impose democratic control.