Naomi Chazan, the NIF and the ZCV

February 8, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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Nathan Cherny is a Melbourne-born oncologist who lives in Jerusalem. He has responded to Danny Lamm, President of the Zionist Council of Victoria which withdrew from a public meeting at which Naomi Chazan, president of the NIF, was due to speak on the weekend.

The New Israel Fund [NIF] allegedly gave $7 million to 16 Israeli NGOs which supposedly furnished 92% of the information used in the Goldstone Report.

J-Wire publishes his response in full:

from Nathan Cherny

From here in Israel I am disturbed and distressed by Danny Lamm’s claim that the kind of things the New Israel Fund (NIF) supports is “so far from the Jewish community in Melbourne” so as to make them “unacceptable”.   Based in Washington and Jerusalem, the New Israel Fund has a thirty-year record of supporting non profit organizations committed to building a more just and democratic Israeli society, the kind of Jewish society that I want for my children. Of the various funding organizations active in Israel, it is probably the most important supporting this vital agenda.

As a son of the community, whose aliya was predicated on the values I learned growing up in the Melbourne Jewish Community, I believe that the issues that the NIF has championed are exactly the kind of things that this community holds dear; an Israel that is just, that promotes equality and the right of its citizens and residents to live in dignity.

As much as I love Israel, and despite its many achievements, I recognize that Israel is a troubled country with a litany of issues that need urgent redress: corruption, inequality, disenfranchised minority groups and a fragile democracy.  It is easy to criticize, but because I am a Zionist I am here to make a difference and to be a part of the many people to want to see a better Israel.

I cannot believe that the Jewish Community of Australia (where I was born and where my father , brother and so many friends live) would not be interested in bridging social and economic gaps (now the second highest among all Western countries), in promoting equal rights for Arab citizens, in advancing the status of women, in fostering tolerance and freedom of religious expression, in increasing government accountability and the rule of law, in strengthening efforts to protect the environment and public health, in promoting peace with the Palestinians, and so much more.  These are the agenda of the NIF!

Without the non-profit organizations supported by the NIF many “invisible Israelis” would have no voice: from Ethiopians, to the impoverished Bedouin citizens of the Negev and the neglected development towns, the NIF believes that Israel has a special responsibility to uphold its founders’ vision and traditional Jewish values of fairness and equity. Is this beyond the interest of the community?

The NIF has championed equal access to education for all in Israel – whether for Sephardi girls segregated from their Ashkenazi classmates in Ultra Orthodox schools, the Bedouin children who must walk to school on dangerous unpaved roads, or the Ethiopian immigrant pupils denied entrance to public schools in Petach Tikva.  Is this what Danny Lamm calls “unacceptable”?

Without the non profit organizations supported by the NIF there would not be a vibrant civil rights movement in Israel.   In the past thirty years, nearly every judicial decision in Israel in the area of civil and human rights was achieved either by an NIF-supported organization or by attorneys whose careers and skills were shaped by their experience and training sponsored by the NIF. These have been big issues ranging from the prohibition of torture in civilian interrogations to changes in the route of the separation fence in order to respect humanitarian concerns, the rights of people with disabilities, women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights and the rights of Israeli-born children of foreign workers.

The NIF is the major promoter of the many moves to release Israelis from the Ultra Orthodox stranglehold on religious life that causes so much distress and hardship here in Israel.   NIF is the largest funder of moderate Orthodox organizations that are courageously advocating for solutions for the thousands of agunot and women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get, protesting the degrading sex-segregated public bus lines in Jerusalem, and speaking out against gross expressions of religious racism (such as the recent publication of “Torah of the King” which argued that religious law permits the killing of any non-Jew who poses a theoretical threat, including children and babies).

The NIF maintains an ongoing struggle to allow true freedom of religious expression in Israel to allow all Jews to express and celebrate their Jewishness in a way that is meaningful and appropriate for them.   I cannot believe that these things do not resonate with communities like Melbourne and Sydney that have cultivated such rich diversity of Jewish life and religious expression?

I believe in “Zedek, Zedek tirdof” the imperative of actively pursuing justice as a core Jewish Principle. Even in war, I want to be able to take pride in the justice of my country. If, and when, my country or its agencies stray through faulty decision making or command, I want a system that is ready to honestly investigate the claims and to candidly address them. This has been the approach of NIF supported non profit Israeli organizations (such as B’tzelem) calling for Israel to launch fair and independent investigation into some of the accusations arising out of the events Operation Cast Lead.  Believe me, I want this, not out of any self hatred, but out of a profound sense of patriotism and love of my country.

That the New Israel Fund has come under attack from all sorts of extremist, right wing, anti democratic, and anti-pluralist persons and interest groups is not new. Among its most severe critics are the sorts of people who attack Israel’s judiciary, who defend a rigid orthodox hegemony over Jewish life, promote Israeli annexation of the West Bank and the expulsion of the Palestinian community; elements that represent the “dark side” of the national discourse.  The recent attacks by the right wing organization “Im-Tirtzu” (which prompted Danny Lamm’s commentary on the NIF) is only the latest of attempt to silence the voice of civil society in Israel.

Paradoxically, when people attack Israel unfairly, the issues championed by the NIF are preiscely the sorts of things cited by Israel’s defenders when they rebut the claims of Israel’s enemies and praise the vibrancy of Israeli democracy and the justice inherent in Israeli law!

While I recognize that trees, dams, parks and urban renewal (the sorts of things traditionally supported by the JNF, UIA and Keren hayesod) are important, the promotion of civil society and social justice in Israel are even more so.  Because I believe that these things are close to the hearts of the Jewish communities of Australia, I believe that the New Israel Fund should become an important part of the philanthropic agenda of the Australian Jewish community as it is in the United States and in Europe.

When Danny Lamm claims that the agenda of the NIF is unpatriotic or anti-Zionist, he not only slurs the organization, he slurs supporters like me and my wife Nancy and the sort of Zionism to which we have committed our lives and the lives of our family. We take personal offense.


10 Responses to “Naomi Chazan, the NIF and the ZCV”
  1. Sid Vicious says:

    Larry. The only smear I could see was the one that equates Israel with Apartheid. You make the call and then you tell us you’re uncomfortable with the use of the term. Yet you still publish the smear. You’re the true practitioner of Apartheid because you rush to condemn Israel but remain silent about the horrendous conduct of the rest of the neighbourhood. Discrimination anyone?

    But the main issue I have with the Apartheid libel is that your mudslinging achieves nothing to bring about peace and reconciliation between Israel and her neighbours. I do a lot of work in the dispute resolution field and I can tell you that engaging in malicious attacks blaming one side is detrimental to achieving a successful outcome.

    So what are you really trying to achieve?

  2. Paul, I think I will leave NIF to defend itself as it well can. But sedition? That’s a bit rich

    As for South Africa, I think I’ve had enough direct experience of South Africa and close reading of Sth African history to know that Israel and SA are not the same, thank goodness, but there are disturbing signs in Israel of deliberate and institutionalised discrimination. If you actually read what I have said in my galus article, I had a got at a number of other countries as well. Ethnic pride doesn’t justify endemic discrimination and inequality.

  3. Paul Winter says:

    Cherny engages in a great deal of dissembling. He carefully avoids Im Tirtzu’s criticism of the NIF: that 92% of Goldstone’s report was based on NIF disinformation.

    It is as irrelevant that NIF does good deeds like striving for equality in schools, as it is that Hamas conducts welfare activities among its poor; poor hangers on, tht is.

    The poing is that it is a foreign funded organisation which in turn funds left wing ati-Israel/anti-Zionist groups and undermines the security and reputation of the country. Im Tirtzu validly criticises NIF’s sedition.

    The problem with left wing ideologues is that they see themselves a part of a humanity and as long as they have it easy and are accepted by the “lovies”, they could not give a damn about fellow Jews or their own past. They are more than happy to destroy an Israel that does not live up to their standards. And influenced by “the movement”, they blind themselves to the utterly horrible jihadists that have been waging war on the Jewish state for over six decades. The unconditional Christian love and forgiveness that they show to the mohammedans, they withhold from Jews fighting an existential battle, a state in the front lines of jihad against the West and the 21st century. A jihad, that if lost, would deny them the freedoms they misuse in denigrating Israel.

    As for Stillman’s scurrilous comments about Israeli apartheid, I suggest that he learns a bit more about the SA system before misapplying that term to Israel. There are inequalities is all societies and when only the Jewish state is criticised for those, then such a description is antisemitic. About par for the course for Jews proud to be ashamed to be Jews.

  4. There’s nothing like smears to raise the level of discussion in the Jewish Community Sid. You appear not to have really got the point of Nathan’s article, since it is organizations like Bteslem which highlight discrimination, racism, and enforced separation in Israel and the territories, often on spurious grounds. The Zionist dream has gone very sour.

    You are referring to my piece in Galus Australis I assume, in which I said. I can only summarize my article in a couple of sentences.

    I am very uncomfortable in using the word apartheid, and that is what I say in the article. I wish there was another term. If you want, we could say ‘separate and unequal’, which has strong historical resonance in the US dues to the ruling of the Supreme Court there in the late 1890s, but nowhere else. All the evidence is that that there is a terrible trend towards the legitimization of ‘separate and unequal’, that has less to do with matters of security, and more to do with dominance of one group over another. This flies in the face of a human rights approach to citizenship.

    There is also concern that if the far right had its own way, the situation would certainly resemble if not South Africa, a pretty terrible place. I am looking for more nuance here. I am not saying it is exactly like South Africa, but it is showing disturbing signs of a permanent, legislated separation of peoples into deliberately unequal populations. Some would claim it has always been like that. I don’t make that claim, but rather, this is the outcome of a policy of occupation and colonization on top of a Zionism that never really came to terms with the historical rights and presence of another people.

    Where I differ, I think, with anti-Zionists/Israel people is that I recognise that population movements are part of history, and we see the effects in particular, in places like the Balkans and Palestine. Jews came to Palestine (some would say back to Palestine) for all sorts of reasons, and have met resistance ever since. The solution has to be compromise, and I wish this for both Israeli Jew, Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians in the Territories, as well as the Palestinian Diaspora. It also means moving down the path of reconciliation (as has happened in a number of countries, though the path has been tough. This will also require comprises on the part of Diaspora Jews Diaspora Palestinians for the sake of peace. The other great factor is whether or not the US will keep bankrolling Israeli.

    Institutionalizing separation, whether whatever it is labelled is an affront to Jewish history and human rights.

  5. Sid Vicious says:

    Congratulations Nathan. The last time I read something from your first correspondent Larry Stillman, he was accusing Israel of being an “Apartheid State”. Your eloquent narrative and his endorsement of your words proves beyond all doubt that he is very much mistaken.

  6. Whispering_jack says:

    Nathan, I am pleased to hear all of the wonderful things that the NIF does to enhance Israel life and Israeli society. The work that you do to assist those segments of the community that are often neglected in mainstream funding such as the work that is done with Israel’s Arab citizens and its Palestinian neighbours.

    I am concerned however, with the politicisation of the NIF issue and the name calling and finger pointing on both sides. I believe that most of us are concerned that funds donated in good faith to Israel do not end up in the hands of those who seek to deligitimise the Zionist dream and who wish to endanger Israeli lives by weakening the state.

    These are questions that have rightly or wrongly been posed by this controversy and which I believe deserve an answer. I don’t believe you have done this in your otherwise excellent piece.

    I also hold a great deal of respect for Naomi Chazan and have done for some time. However, I believe that in the current circumstances, her visit was untenable. The good news is that it’s been postponed, not cancelled and there is every chance that we will have the opportunity to see and hear her in person some time soon.

  7. Mark Spigelman says:

    Nathan Cherny has elquently expressed a view we strongly support. Rachel and I do not support most of the findings of the Gladstone report never the less we feel it must be answered and not ignored.

    However the NIF is an important body in trying to correct many of the wrongs in our society- it should not be silenced by people whose knowledge of its activities and functions are superficial at best.

    We hope this “new” information will lead to a re think by the Melbourne community as Nathan expressed it is veery important that the diaspora supports Israeli society as a whole and not just those on the far right right as the current actions appear to suggest. We are struggling here to support a fully democratic society do not let Melbourne become the voice of those elements that endevour to stifle debate in our country.

    Rachel and Mark Spigelman

  8. Larry Stillman says:

    Excellent points Nathan.

    Kol ha kavod. Unfortunately, I believe that you will be attacked too, for not being a patriot, by people who have been captured by an increasingly scary, right-wing agenda that belongs in the former Balkans, but also, by a community that is kept in a deliberately stoked state of anxiety.

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