Questions for the New Israel Fund

June 13, 2011 by Ian Lacey
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Some time ago on J-Wire I suggested that the controversy about the appearance of the New Israel Fund in Australia might be simply resolved by publishing a list of current recipients of funding with their website addresses. It now seems that this may not be enough.

In the May issue of Commentary there appears a 15 page article by Noah Pollack detailing the harm done by B’tselem, the self-proclaimed “Information Centre for Human Rights”. As one of a number of  examples, Pollack notes that the infamous Goldstone Report includes no less than 56 footnotes giving credit to B’tselem for information, much of which has subsequently been found to be false or distorted.

Pollack also records that B’tselem relies largely on funds received from the New Israel Fund, some of which is given by the Ford Foundation to the NIF and earmarked for B’tselem. (There is, of course, no suggestion of any relationship between the Ford Foundation and the antisemitic writings of the late Henry Ford.)

The critical point, however, is that the name “B’tselem” simply does not appear in the current “List of Grantees” on the NIF website. The questions here are whether the name once appeared on the list and has now been removed, and whether the organisation is still receiving funds, even though its name does not appear on the list.

Another, rather less prominent, beneficiary of the New Israel Fund is a group called the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement which organises demonstrations in Jerusalem, which attract over a thousand participants on a regular basis. The demonstrations are about the eviction of two Arab families from housing in East Jerusalem, and typical banner denounces “illegal settlements in East Jerusalem”  as an “obstacle to peace”.

The website of the Sheikh Jarrah Movement advises that tax deductible donations in the US can be made through the New Israel Fund. However the name of the Movement also does not appear on the List of Grantees.

I became aware of the issues involved in the Sheikh Jarrah protests after Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter very publicly participated in a demonstration in Jerusalem, and I was asked to provide advice for an open letter to Mary Robinson detailing how she had been misled.

I found  that the ownership of the relevant property has been the subject of a long and complex litigation in the Israeli courts since 1982. The following abbreviated summary (largely gleaned from Palestinian sources) might assist in understanding an interesting legal situation:

In 1875 the Sephardic Community Centre and the Knesset Israel Committee purchased the properties and received a “Bill of Sale” under Ottoman law. Until 1948, the residents of the properties were Jewish. They vacated the properties and fled when the Trans-Jordanian Arab Legion invaded East Jerusalem.

In 1956 UNRWA signed a contract with the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property and, in cooperation with the Jordanian government, built housing for 28 Palestinian refugee families. The agreement with those families states that they would pay minimal rent for three years, after which the properties would be formally transferred to them. However that transfer did not take place.

After the war of 1967 the properties came under the control of the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property. Twenty-seven of the Palestinian  families remained in residence.

In 1982 a civil case was filed by the Jewish Committees claiming ownership of the properties.  The residents’ lawyer eventually settled the case on the basis that the residents would receive the legal status of “protected tenants.” Two families now claim that the lawyer acted without their instructions, and they continue to dispute the Jewish title. For that reason they refuse to pay even the reduced rent payable by protected tenants.

In 1999 the Committees obtained the first court orders for eviction of the families on the ground of non-payment of rent. Since then a number of eviction orders have been made, enforced and/or overturned, and the litigation is continuing. Nobody is seeking to evict the families who are paying  their rent.

There is no way of knowing whether B’Tselem’s misrepresentations or the Sheikh Jarrah beat-up are typical of the scores of organisations which appear on the NIF List of Grantees. It may also be the case that that neither of them still receive any funding from the NIF.

I agree with Naomi Chazan that the existence of a loyal opposition is central to democracy, and that it ought to be funded. On the other hand it is important that expressions of grievance should not be manipulated in a fashion which gives aid and comfort to very real enemies.  I suggest that the NIF in Australia should provide answers to the relevant questions before they seek funds from the Jewish public.





15 Responses to “Questions for the New Israel Fund”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    I feel that I arrived at a juncture where there is an obvious need to clarify if, in the general context of the exchages of opinions vehiculated on this site, the rhetorical avocation of “argumentum ad hominem” is always unacceptable or it could be also used as an apodictic reasoning, a legitimate, relevant and, above all, reasonable argumentation.
    I shall resume to the known aphorism that “personal attacks” are not unconditional fallacies, considering the strict contextual relevance. Save legal limitations, ripostes of any stylistic manner, not to mention intensity of substance, are not only acceptable as dialectical practice , but organically implicit, dynamically anticipated and logically impossible to expurgate.
    This means that anyone supporting views, promoting competing norms, MUST expect conflict. Once the individual is exposed in the conflict forum not just the notions proffered will be attacked, but so will be the very purveyor of them. Accordingly the slightest flaws shall be revealed and necessarily construed in demostrable rational. The very structure of the argumentation must be so water-tight as to exclude, invite damaging criticism. The discerned flaws, however,belong not only to the logical or otherwise “autonomous” construct, but also to the source of the utterings, i.e. the retor. The utterings impinge upon the individual responsible for them.
    Prevalently,the political arena is defined by merciless “revelations” about individuals, personal features, traits etc. readily conjuncted with politica/ideological structures. The highest form of intimate physiognomic, indeed,connexion to idea “details” is the revered art of political cartoons etc.

    When one signs a statement with one’s name, one must stand behind what the one says. If one wants one’s feathers “nylon-permanent”,one must confine oneself to the safety of vacuum tight peace, quiet and almost dead silence. Once one steps out in the open agora of encounters/conflict/ideological propositions/personal pontification/political activism must expect batallions of Otto Waldmanns sanguinely wanting one’s backside. Otherwise there are much cooler places in the house than the kitchen.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    Dear Ian and just as dear “admin”, not to mention dear Nathan

    For the record the above is not meant to be at all personal, just customary politness as I am trying to make clear and total UNpersonal remarks regarding personal opinions voiced by persons who,through using this communication method , are simply voicing opinions which, let’s presume,do NOT pertain to their PERSONAL thinking and expressing intellectual structure. Accordingly, Ian would express opinions he would purchase off the shelf at Coles or home made by,say,his gorgeous lady and “admin” would buy them wholesale and Nathan granted from the NIF stock and trade. I, on the other side, can only indulge in what my very personal, solitary,resources allow. Florence left me once, some 17 years ago, then we resumed our union, Felix is too busy making inroads at Cambridge, apparently having my brains, which means devested me of any, so what am I to do when it comes to best defending what is one of the most important functions, defending Israel the best I , PERSONALLY can !!!
    Accordingly I am kindly asking Ian to provide me with remarks I could,completely NONpersonally express,hoping that “admin” will find them acceptable. Meantime Nathan,NIF and all concerned may atack me personally,as Nathan actually DID and promiss to keep it personal and not tell either Ian, admin,my wife, or anybody else’s. Felix will be spared, as he’s arriving today and this time jetlag will be an excellent reason to fob off my kveching re the cronic persection his father has been the victim of…..

  3. admin says:

    too personal, Otto

  4. Ian Lacey says:

    For the record, I disapprove of Otto’s personal remarks.

    Ian Lacey

  5. Nathan Cherny says:

    despite the stridency of your tone, the misinformation regarding the so called hostile agenda of the most important civil society organisation in Israel is just so much wind. I and my “political ilk” will not be bullied or intimidated by you.

    My Zionism may be different from yours, but it is a one in which I take pride as being part of a great many who are committed to the values of justice and democracy asserted in Israel declaration of Independence.

    It may make you, and others uncomfortable, when me “and my ilk” stand up to try to make a difference. It may make you rage with anger that I do stand up for the rights of non-0rthodox Jews, for the rights of Sephardi Girls to study as equals in Ashkenazi schools, to work for the welfare of Ethiopian immigrants , that we gladly fight for the protection of greens spaces and the implementation of clean water and water laws. Maybe you are uncomfortable with our battle to end violence in soccer stadiums or that we promote Orthodox women fighting for their status or rights of agunot and women who are refused gets.

    Yes I, and the chief prosecutor of the Army, are appreciative of the important work of BTselem, in identifying war crimes when they occurred. Or maybe the chief prosecutor of the army deserves the flippant disregard you have for me and any contribution I may have made to Israeli society.

    Otto, how can you not be proud of the incredible work Naomi Chazan, the former deputy speaker of the Knesset did in defending Israel in front of an incredibly hostile forum at the Sydney Opera House?

    You are entitled to your concerns, valid or not, but your total inability to acknowledge the incredible merit and contribution that has been acknowledged even by the most vocal opponents of NIF belittles you.

    Yours is not the only vision of Zionism.. but it sure seems to be a very narrow, hostile and unpleasant one.

    I do not think that you did “your friend” Ian Lacey proud.

  6. Otto Waldmann says:

    Offended Nathan and his wife ( reminding me of the ” I am Brian and so is my wife !” ) dispenses advice, moral rectitude, personal injury cum modest comparative superiority re his place of abode, all in the name of absconding indifensible affront to what we call, quite ethically, rational consideration of prevailing circumstances burdening Israel and general Yidishkeit. One may live and work in his chosen field in Israel, even serve in the IDF, pay taxes and other dues, cross the street only on the green light and even keep a kosher home and, yet, proffer vicious, damaging, incongruous notions AGAINST the very state and people he delusionally reckons he is …. protecting. A minute legal encounter, insignificant to the vital issues confronting Israel is not going to render NIF and Dr. Nathan Cherny, a specialist in oncology, granted, the right to peddle clear obnoxious policies, as we all DO KNOW NIF has been responsible for. It is, indeed, the moral obligation of oncologist Cherny to appologise to all and sundry for the indisputable anti Israel activities and utterings of NIF and its president, Naomi Chazan as far too obviously evinced by the massive support given to the BDS and the Goldstone report by the large number of NGOs financially supported by NIF. Being a valuable oncologist does not absolve or, indeed afford licence to one to claim authority over issues that do have something to do with clinically affected behaviour of the non-oncological type. Yes, one can live and work in Israel and yet manifestly act AGAINST the best interests of his own country and that IS indubitably a non oncological complaint which Dr. Cherny and his political ilk must address as a matter of urgency before they demand respect. Meanwhile, Aitan Cohen speakes the emet, not to mention my good friend Ian !

  7. Ian Lacey says:

    I agree with Nathan on the need for civility in our discussions, and I also have a great deal of respect for his work. The title of the the article was “Questions for the NIF”, and Nathan answered one of those questions.

    To my mind, his response illustrated the difficulties the NIF faces. The Fund quite properly financed the provision of legal aid for people with a genuine grievance. The problem in this case was that the advocacy group funded by the NIF turned an ordinary tenancy dispute into an international cause.

    Unfortunately there are a number of advocacy groups financed by the NIF which similarly, and sometimes intentionally, convert Israeli social issues into anti-Israel agitation. It is a problem which the NIF will need to overcome before it seeks contributions from the Jewish community in Australia.

  8. Nathan Cherny says:

    Aitan, I think that even Ian Lacy (and possibly Mr Singer and Mr Winter) will agree that your comments are totally out of line and grossly offensive.

    You don’t need to agree with people whose opinion is different from your own and you don’t need to support the work of the New Israel Fund, but you cannot call us antisemites or enemies of the state. There you have crossed the line.

    You do , however, need to give people like myself who have made Israel our homes (having chosen to leave the comfort of Australia) out of a commitment to making a contribution to be a part of building a just and democratic Jewish State, our due credit.

    In calling me and my wife antisemites or self hating Jews, you only undermine your own credibility and cause deep offense..which is taken personally

    I look forward to your apology.

    Nathan Cherny,
    Dept of Oncology and Palliative Care,
    Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel

  9. Aitan Cohen says:

    NIF is an enemy of the Jeweish people and the state of Israel. It’s Jewish-membership-dominated existance is a phnomenon yet to be studied by phycologists. Until this amzing self antisemitism is academically understood, we should treat them as enemies with all implications involved.

  10. Ian Lacey says:

    That is good news. It demonstrates how the issue was being dealt with by the Israeli courts on the merits of the case. It also shows how inappropriate it was for the NIF to finance public demonstrations featuring the likes of Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter, while the matter was being litigated, and defaming Israel internationally.

    Another news item, not seen by me before the article was written:
    New Israel Fund Cut Off From Ford Foundation
    Daily Forward April 7, 2011 By Aaron Katsman
    While not outwardly admitting it, the Ford Foundation has been swayed by right of center groups in Israel to cut off funding of the New Israel Fund. The controversial New Israel Fund has come under immense pressure for funding extreme left wing political groups in Israel.

  11. Nathan says:

    Re: Sheikh Jarrah and the legal issues

    Jerusalem court denies request to evict Palestinian family June 16, 2011

    JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian family may not be evicted from its home in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a Jerusalem court ruled.

    The Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court ruled Wednesday that the Farhan family, who has lived in a house in the neighborhood since 1948, could not be evicted, Haaretz reported.

    The house is owned by a committee that has taken over ownership of land that was owned by Jews before 1948. It is located in what is now a predominately Jewish neighborhood surrounding the burial caves of Simon the Just.

    Eighteen family members are living in three rooms, according to Haaretz. The family was accused of failing to pay rent, making changes to the house and harassing its Jewish neighbors.

    The court said the charges could not be proven. It also ordered the plaintiffs to reimburse the Farhan family for its legal fees.

  12. Ian Lacey says:

    Your anonymous “Reader” has made a point of not answering the central questions which I have raised about the New Israel Fund. Let me simplify the argument:

    1. B’tselem and the Sheikh Jarrah Movement are both engaged in irresponsible and untruthful propaganda against Israel, and are unworthy recipients of Jewish public funds.

    2. Neither organisation appears in the “List of Grantees” on the NIF Website.

    3. The 2009 accounts do not disclose who the current grantees are. This is important as the NIF has promised that it would weed out unacceptable grantees whose names would presumably still appear in the 2009 accounts.

    4. The NIF should refrain from seeking contributions in Australia as long as it funds such unacceptable organisations.

  13. david singer says:

    Edwin Black, Ari Briggs and Ron Weiser at Limmud OZ and now Ian Lacey have expressed grave concerns about NIF funding of other organizations.

    Naomi Chazan needs to make a full and detailed explanation of:
    1. The organizations NIF currently funds
    2. The amounts each organization receives
    3. Whether the amounts distributed are specifically designated by donors to be given to those other organizations or whether they are distributions made by NIF of its own volition.

    If she pleads that we await the release of the 2010 audited accounts, then I would respectfully suggest she delay the start up of NIF Australia until they are published.

    My late mother used to say – “If you don’t eat garlic your breath won’t smell” (a polite translation of the Yiddish expression)

  14. Paul Winter says:

    Nameless “Reader”, please refrain from the classical time dishonoured claims of aspersion by anyone who questions the probity of the feigned bleeding hearts of the lefty intellectualisers. That method of silencing and ignoring criticism won’t wash; the dirty tactics are transparent. The points Ian Lacey makes are: NIF is a bag-man for seditious anti-Zionist B’Tzelem in the USA; B’Tzelem showed its treachery to Israel in gathering lies used by Goldstone in its blood libel of Israel; NIF funds a gang that is defying Israeli rights to property in Jerusalem and Israel’s system of justice. Lets not get bogged down in minor details of administration or documentation or dismissing important points because they were made by an unsympathetic person or they besmirched the escutcheons of progressive leaders of the new tomorrow or because they hurt the tender feelings of those who love all humanity, except those who oppose the dystopias they champion. NIF needs to be open, honest, non-manipulative, honest to the cause they claim to support and its members need to grow up. Oh, they can’t, because if they did they would not behave in such infantile non-Jewish ways.

  15. Reader says:

    I have urged Mr Lacey in response to his previous writings to please READ the material that is published by NIF, and made available on-line for all the world to read (including him!) before defaming NIF.

    Mr Lacey says that NIF has not disclosed in its published accounts that it fundsa B’Tselem. Wrong! The most recently published financial statements list B’Tselem as a grantee to the tune of $111,722 in 2009. How do I know? Because I went on line and looked it up myself.

    He is right to say that the Sheikh Jarrah Solidaity Movement (SJSM) does not appear there. YET. Because as Mr Lacey knows, this movement first came into existence in 2009. As he would also know, should he ever choose to actually read the NIF website instead of rely upon misleading second hand reports about it, NIF’s 2010 accounts (the earliest that SJSM might appear in) are being audited and are due to be published in the coming weeks.

    Mr Lacey’s criticisms, apart from suffering from these sloppy errors, proceeds on the offensive assumption that NIF, its eminent CEO, its directors, its auditors, and everyone else associated with them, are engaged in a conspiratorial cover-up to hide the truth.

    Please, Mr Lacey, read and check your facts before you write.

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