Hello Robin, Hello Ron

May 16, 2011 by J-Wire
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It seems differing viewpoints are emerging within the community since it was announced that former NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Ron Margo would be at the helm of the New Israel Fund Australia. Ron Weiser published his views on  NIFA and today Robin Margo responds….

Robin Margo writes:

I refer to Dr Ron Weiser’s statement about the New Israel Fund (J-Wire 11/5/11), made in his capacity as a former and honorary president of the NSW State Zionist Council.  I respect Dr Weiser’s commitment to the Jewish people and to Israel, and regret that he has been making similar statements about NIF for some weeks now, to try and prevent establishment of an NIF branch in Australia, accompanied by disparaging comments about Naomi Chazan, Martin Indyk and Avrum Burg, each of whom has a distinguished record of service to Israel and the Jewish people.

I attended a meeting Dr Weiser addressed about NIF some weeks ago and asked why he had not made direct enquiry of Naomi Chazan, with whom he claims close friendship.  I suggested he do that.  I asked also for a copy of a PowerPoint presentation he gave at great speed, so I could make enquiry myself about allegations it contained about some NIF grantees, similar to those in his J-Wire statement.  Dr Weiser has not made the direct, personal enquiry I suggested and he refused to give me a copy of his presentation, not what I would have expected of someone interested in informed discussion about NIF.

If Dr Weiser had attended Professor Itzhak Galnoor’s address at Shalom College last month, or made direct enquiry of Naomi Chazan, he would know that the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), one of the organisations he repeatedly cites as evidence that NIF is on the wrong side of his so-called “red lines”, had not received any NIF grant for two or three years and had also been removed by NIF from its list of approved donor-advised organisations.

Last year, the New Israel Fund clarified its funding guidelines. It did so, not in response to its critics, as they often wrongly claim, but as part of a general review initiated independently by its new executive team, which included review of policies and guidelines.  NIF’s funding guidelines guide its grant-making decisions, and are being applied as organisations apply or reapply for funding, or as their status is reviewed for the donor-advised list.

Dr Weiser also displayed a photograph of a member of Machsom Watch, an NIF grantee, with an Arab woman crying on her shoulder.  He informed the meeting that the crying woman was the mother of one of the alleged Fogel family murderers, and then went into some of the gruesome details of those appalling murders, clearly implying that NIF funds organisations that sympathise with the murderers.  I pointed out that the photograph had in fact been taken before the identity of the murderers was made known, during a regular visit of Machsom Watch to a place where there had been vigorous Shin Bet activity, and asked Dr Weiser why he had not informed the meeting of that fact. He knew, and did not dispute, the facts I stated but shrugged my question off, suggesting, with no evidence at all, that the identity of the murderers must have been known to Machsom Watch before it was announced to the rest of the Israeli public! Again, I would not have expected such a response from someone interested in fair and informed discussion. Dr Weiser also did not mention the strong condemnation that had been issued by NIF of the Fogel murders and its message of condolence to the surviving members of the family.

NIF emphatically supports Israel as the democratic state of the Jewish people, with full equality for all its citizens, and all its work, over more than 33 years, has been directed to realising that vision of a Jewish democratic state as set out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. There are good reasons why NIF funds some Israeli Arab organisations, such as Adalah, or organisations that support Arab Israelis, like Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, that sometimes make statements or support ideas that are inconsistent with that vision.  Arab grantees, like all NIF grantees, must be legally recognised by the Israeli government and their main activity must not be inconsistent with NIF’s principles, but they, and Arab Israelis generally, cannot reasonably be expected to share the Jewish perspective on the Zionist narrative.  If a grantee’s main activity strengthens Israeli society by promoting civil and human rights, pluralism and democracy, NIF will not cut it off on account of occasional statements or conduct inconsistent with the Zionist narrative and vision.  Dr Weiser would cut them off for such reasons, but Dr Weiser, I respectfully suggest, has not deeply considered and had to weigh, as NIF has and does, the long-term consequences for Israel of not remaining constructively engaged with all of her non-Jewish citizens.

NIF has a very long, public record of service to the state of Israel. All I ask of Australian Jews, as NIF establishes in Australia, is that they be wary of self-appointed guardians who claim their line on Zionism is the only permissible one and that they think and enquire for themselves and keep an open mind.


5 Responses to “Hello Robin, Hello Ron”
  1. Joan says:

    I attended the evening Margo talks about. His report is erroneous – very wrong. He spoke a lot himself and would not let others have a go till people told him to be quiet. I also did not know at the time that he was going to head NIF here – he did not bother to say that on the night, but obviously wanted to seem like a regular unbiased person attending, instead of being ashamed to say that he was there as NIF. The odd thing about Weiser was that far from disparaging Chazan, he praised her. Margo’s account of the debate about that photo is fantasy. Margo himself backed off by saying that Weiser knew a lot more about Israel than he did. The rest of the audience agreed with Margo on that point.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    Prof Gerald Steinberg’s article in the Australian Jewsh News details why NIF is no more concerned with Jews in Israel than JStreet. When 25% of NIF’s funding goes to organisations devoted to destroying Israel as a Jewish state and receive additional funding from various European meddlers in Israel’s internal affairs, no right-minded person can accept NIF or Chazan as supporters of Jewish self-determination. The NGO Watch guidelines for funding are honoured in the breach by the NIF; it still funds seditionary groupings whose policies have been thoroughly rejected by the electorate. In doing so, NIF displayes its contempt for democratic processes and its commitment to the ethos on which the the state where it is free to act is founded. That the majority of NIF funds go to good causes is irrelevant. Hamas and Hizballah also have good welfare projects and the Hitler Jugend, when not letting their Aryan instincts guide them toward murdering Allied airmen, helped old ladies across streets and cut fire wood for them. In short, the NIF has no place in our community; Marrickville Council Chambers should be a comfortable home for it.

  3. Yosi says:

    Unfortunately Robin Margo has form when it comes to crticism of Israel.Why doesnt he come clean and tell us all what he had to say behind closed doors to the left wing caucus of the ALP vis a vis what he had done as a” progressive” to undermine the Jewish Communities unwavering one eyed support for the State of Israel when he was trying to get ALP endorsement to be the ALP candidate for the seat of Wentworth against Malcom Turnbull for the 2010 Election.This was all while he was still the President of the BOD.A slight conflict of interest there Mr Robin Margo.

  4. Andre Oboler says:

    Robin, there are real issues here that are worth discussing. Your last paragraph, however, is I feel pretty unfair. The community should certainly discuss and make up its own mind on the issue, but the self appointed NIF committee (themselves mostly former leaders of the “self appointed Jewish community leadership”) are hardly in a position to argue for support on the grounds of being antiestablishment and therefore “cool”. It’s embarrasing. Like parents who want to dress cooler than their teenaged children.

    This of course has nothing to do with the real issue. The real issue is whether NIF should play a more positive role by setting red lines. An obvious red line is to tell organisations they support that a condition of support is that they don’t promote BDS, don’t involve themselves in Israel Apartheid Week, and don’t seek to undermine the Jewish nature of the state. It is not impossible for organisations promoting equality, diversity, etc. to agree to this. They don’t need to adopt and advocate the Zionist agenda, but they need to respect it and not work to undermine it.

    Those who want to undermine the existance of the state of Israel as a Jewish State can do so without NIF funding. And if their core purpose is to deal with poverty, the rights of Arab-Israelis, the rights of other minorities… let them decide if it is in their interests to accept money from a pro-Israel organisation and let the pro-Israel organisation specify that they won’t support organisations that undermine the state. There is nothing wrong with giving the organisations themselves this choice. NIF would then be taking a meaningful pro-Israel stand, assisting minorities, and at the same time setting a minimum bar that prevents fundign from Zionist Jews going to organisations that actively undermine the state of Israel.

    I don’t think this position is unreasonable, and I can’t see what NIF’s objection to such a proposal is. Indeed NIF said this would be its new position late last year, and then backflipped saying it didn’t want to impose restrictions on the legal activity of its grantees. If it is an ideology free grant maker, then that’s great, but say so, and don’t claim to be pro-Israel while funding activities that undermine the state of Israel. The red line are easy to see, and I think most Australian Jews, and in fact most Australians generally, would find it hard to understand why NIF keeps trying to dodge the issue.

  5. NIF - NO WAY! says:

    “NIF will not cut it off on account of occasional statements or conduct inconsistent with the Zionist narrative and vision”

    BUT THE PROBLEM is that the statements are far from “occasional” – these NGOs funded by NIF repeatedly make anti-Israel comments and engage in BDS.

    There comes a point when one needs to ask when enough is enough and when is NIF going to take their own funding guidelines seriously.

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