All of which seems to me a fine demonstration of democracy in action. We don't like you, you don't like us, we think you're stinkers, you think we're funded by Bad Guys, we're convinced your backers are Evil... that's what freedom of speech is all about. That the tones in Israel are harsh and strident is because Israelis have a culture of discourse which is not at all like what they teach in Oxford. The rancor of American political discourse these past 15 years (or is it 50?) can't hold a candle to the vitality (nice name) or vehemence (realistic name) of standard Israeli fare. Just as the Israeli ability to come together at times of crises is quite unimaginable in America or Europe. (Well, the Americans didn't do badly on 9/12). This is the Jewish way: the Talmud has many examples of scholars bad-mouthing one another while simultaneously engaging each other in complex discussions, and uniting in the face of external enemies.
The Arabic word which has been adopted (colonized) by modern Hebrew is dugri: when you tell your interlocutor what you really think about them. Israelis are extremely dugri; this also means they know where they stand with one another, and can get on with living together.
Which is not to say there's no substance to the present spat. There is.
The decision by Im Tirzu to attack Naomi Hazan personally is bad taste and enables the NIF to change the subject; it may or may not be a good tactic, however, since it's certainly generating a lot of attention, and attention is what Im Tirzu wanted. So if it was a good tactic or not, the PR people will have to say.
The decision of the NIF to respond as they're responding, however, is telling. They've got two official responses up, one in English, on the American NIF website, and the other in Hebrew on the Israeli NIF website. The English one is signed by an American, the Israeli one by an Israeli, and if you compare the two it's pretty clear they were both written by the same person.
How does the NIF defend itself? Poorly. First, they're the victims. Second, democracy in Israel has been their doing (you might even think: almost only their doing). Third, the attack on them is part of a purposeful undermining of democracy in Israel. Fourth... well, I'd like to tell you that fourth is some sort of response to the allegations against them, but alas, it isn't. Naomi Hazan (in the Haaretz link above) says there's nothing to respond to (she's a professor, so she knows); the rest of her colleagues don't even go that far.
The historical reality has been that NIF-funded organizations indeed have made valuable contributions to the Israeli political and social sphere. They have and hopefully will continue to play an important role. A democracy really does need as many voices as possible, and theirs is sometimes a valuable one. Sometimes, it isn't. That's the crux of the matter. Some of the same NGOs which participate positively in Israel's democracy, also take positions which are legal but morally and of course factually indefensible. Pretending this is not so is delusional. Claiming that they are above reproach is anti-democratic.
Finally, there's the comic aspect of how thin their skin is. Remember, the NGOs in question dish out criticism, harsh criticism and sometimes rancid animosity; they often intentionally supply Israel's enemies with rhetorical ammunition against it at time of war. They've got a serious case to answer, and preening that requiring them to do so is antidemocratic, is silly.
How very silly? This silly: one of their main demands is that Israel set up an independent investigation of the IDF actions in Gaza (I agree with them). One of the horrific things in the present attack on them (to be found only in their Hebrew-language complaint) is
וכעת התבשרנו כי הצעת חוק פרטית, המליצה על הקמת וועדת בדיקה פרלמנטארית (!), כדי לבדוק את פעולתם של הקרן החדשה לישראל וקבוצה של ארגוני זכויות אדם בכל הקשור לדוח גולדסטון.
Someone has suggested there be a parliamentary investigation into the actions of these NGOs in relation to the Goldstone Inquiry!