The NIF: Gerald Steinberg adds his voice

February 10, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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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


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.

Gerald Steinberg

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.


4 Responses to “The NIF: Gerald Steinberg adds his voice”
  1. Julian says:

    Gerald Steinberg should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Almost single handedly he has taken on and exposed hypocrites, frauds and liars who have taken over the very powerful international “human rights” organizations. I find the sensitivity of the leaders of these groups amusing when they are exposed.
    Keep up the great work Mr. Steinberg. You are a true hero.

  2. Michael says:

    Gerald Steinberg and his NGO watch does a great job exposing all the dodgy left wing rat-bags masquerading as human-rights/NGO advocates. The question should be asked is how is it none of these activists ever take an interest in Israeli Jewish human-rights, its as if they are excluded.

  3. Steve Brook says:

    It wasn’t only the Kurds who suffered under Saddam Hussein. In the early 1970s, thousands of Iraqi Communists were butchered by the Hussein regime — but I suspect that this was not the main accusation against him. Back then, it was OK to kill Commies.

  4. I can only quote this opinion of Mr Steinberg’s views. He is regrettably, a lead player in a well-funded campaign to discredit criticism of Israel’s human rights record, and that includes Arab Israeli, Jewish Israeli and Palestinian associated organisations. And to regard all the other major NGOs and funders engaged in some sort of anti-Israel conspiracy is crude, stupid, and manipulative of the Jewish community in Israel and internationally.

    The Truth Hurts
    Pubished in the Jerusalem Post on April 1, 2004
    March 31, 2004

    Rather than bashing the watchdogs, Israel’s supporters should examine themselves As the UN Commission on Human Rights meets for its annual session in Geneva, one can understand why Israel feels picked on. Many commission members are abusive governments that will spend an inordinate amount of time condemning Israel while doing everything possible to protect themselves and their allies from critical scrutiny.

    It would thus be understandable if the Jerusalem Post were to criticize the commission or others who apply a similarly blatant double standard. But in recent months, the Post’s opinion pages seem fixated instead on Human Rights Watch – an organization with a long record of objectively reporting on not only Israel’s conduct but also abuses by Palestinian groups and repressive governments throughout the region and the world.

    Human Rights Watch reports are taken seriously by the press, the public, and policymakers of nearly all political persuasions, including the Israeli government. Yet it is precisely this credibility that seems so irksome to the Post’s opinion writers. At a time when Israel desperately needs a hard-nosed, honest evaluation of its human rights practices, the Post’s opinion writers seem determined to demonize those who are most capable of providing that assessment. Sadly, truth is rarely an obstacle to these attacks.

    Any objective assessment would show that, horrendous as the terrorist attacks on Israel have been, the Israeli government has chosen to mount a defense not within the ample leeway provided by international human rights and humanitarian law but in violation of that law. Assassinating suspects when they could be arrested, punishing families for the acts of one of their members, employing abusive interrogation techniques, imposing punitive restrictions on the Palestinian population that go well beyond security requirements, building a security barrier not on the Green Line but with deep incursions into the West Bank to protect settlements that themselves violate the Geneva Conventions – all of these flout fundamental legal norms that Israel itself has subscribed to, along with most of the rest of the world.

    By fueling hatred for Israel among Palestinians, this disregard for human rights has arguably made Israel less safe. And it does enormous damage to Israel’s global reputation, transforming the country in the eyes of many from a sympathetic victim of terrorism to another (particularly powerful) human rights abuser. Yet one is hard-pressed to find an honest discussion of these abusive practices or their consequences on the Post’s opinion pages – in contrast to much of the Israeli press.

    The lead attacker in the Post is often Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University. For example, in a March 9 op-ed, he wrote that Human Rights Watch “was present in Durban when the NGO community hijacked a UN conference on racism to promote its own racist anti-Zionist agenda.” Steinberg leaves the impression that Human Rights Watch must have joined this racist campaign, making it easy to reject the objectivity of Human Rights Watch reports on Israeli conduct. However, even if mere “presence” were a crime – many Jewish groups were also “present” in Durban – Steinberg neglects to mention the inconvenient fact, widely reported in the press at the time, that Human Rights Watch publicly disassociated itself from the NGO’s manifesto because of its unfounded attacks on Israel.

    In the same article, Steinberg condemns Human Rights Watch’s “consistent silence” in the face of Palestinian suicide bombing “with the one exception” of our major October 2002 report – an “exception” that supposedly “proves the rule” of our indifference. Yet a simple review of our website would have shown 11 other condemnations of Palestinian bombing attacks on civilians – condemnations that Steinberg conveniently ignores.

    Steinberg betrays a similar sleight-of-hand in his December 18 op-ed. He accuses Human Rights Watch of “condemning victims for defending themselves” as if there were no difference between advocating surrender and insisting that Israel’s defense be conducted consistently with the same international law governing everyone else’s security forces. He charges Human Rights Watch with “protecting Middle Eastern tyrants” as if we hadn’t spent 15 years documenting and condemning abuses by a wide range of Middle Eastern governments.

    Steinberg is not alone. Even Saul Singer, the Post’s editorial page editor, ignores the facts in discussing the US government’s recently released report on Saddam Hussein’s atrocities, including his 1988 genocide against the Kurds. Writing on February 26, he says it is “striking” that “there is no similar report by a non-governmental agency, such as … Human Rights Watch” – again, suggesting that our reporting on Israel must be biased if we don’t even report on a genocidal killer like Saddam. Yet even a cursory review of Human Rights Watch’s website would have shown extensive publications on Saddam’s atrocities – publications that the Israeli press covered prominently -including what is widely considered the definitive account of the 1988 genocide.

    This disregard for basic facts is not only a problem for those like Human Rights Watch who are targeted by these calumnies and fictitious allegations of bias. This fantasy-based discourse also does a deep disservice to Israel, since it discourages understanding of a major cause of increasing Palestinian animosity toward Israel and growing global disquiet about Israeli government practices.

    The issue, I stress, is not Israel’s right to defend itself from the scourge of suicide bombing but the method of defense. In many parts of the world, public horror at the bombing and sympathy for the Israeli victims too often gives way to outrage at Israeli indifference to the same body of international human rights and humanitarian law that prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians.

    It would be in Israel’s interest for Post readers to understand this sad reality. Yet the Post opinion pages might lead them to believe that the problem lies not with Israeli government conduct but with the supposed bias of groups like Human Rights Watch. If only it were so simple. Yes, some governments and organizations exaggerate Israel’s misconduct or apply a double standard; but others, like Human Rights Watch, conscientiously try to call it as it is. If supporters of Israel want to defend its government effectively, they should make such distinctions. Only by rejecting the false and reflexive attacks too often found on these pages is it possible to undertake the honest inquiry that alone will help Israel to address the difficult political and security situation it faces today.

    The writer is executive director of Human Rights Watch

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