Ben Murane of the NIF has been replaced on this blog by Naomi Paiss, who is probably his boss. I'm again moving the discussion to the front page of the blog (from here), since it remains too important for the comments section. (For those wearying of the topic, I don't expect this to continue dominating the blog for much longer, so hang in there).
Hi Naomi, thanks for coming by. I appreciate it.
At the heart of the discussion is a dichotomy, a profound ambivalence. On the one hand, you've got organizations committed to preserving or enhancing democratic freedoms in Israel, and warning and guarding against transgressions or even simple human weaknesses that might erode Israeli society. On the other hand, you've got organizations serving as crucial conveyor belts of twisted, warped and dishonest statements about Israel, from a complex society that lives in Hebrew (and some Arabic, Russian, and many other languages) into the hands of Israel's avowed enemies. The individuals and organizations engaged in the first, legitimate and valuable activities, are sometimes (too often) the exact same people and organizations serving as the conveyor belt in the second.
Let me qualify the observation, before strengthening it. Israel faces two sorts of enemies. The worst are the ones willing (sometimes eager) to destroy the Jews in their homeland. The shooting enemies, the ones who kill Jews, or not, depending on tactical or strategical considerations, not philosophical ones: if they feel they can get away with it, they kill; if they feel they can't, they'll do it later. The NIF and its grantees have nothing to do with these enemies, can in no way be connected to them, and if at any point in the high-strung vehement political discussion in Israel and among its friends anyone ever says something such as "you're aiding the worst of our enemies" (hagruim shebeoyveinu!), they don't mean it. There are lots of "worst of our enemies", but no-one in your world, Naomi, is remotely affiliated with them in any way.
Then there's the second rank of Israel's enemies. The ones who believe the Jews have no business having a political entity. These people come in many stripes and flavours, and are motivated by a large variety of sometimes mutually contradictory considerations, but the commonality to their positions and actions is the goal of ending Zionism, which is the political expression of the Jewish nation. Most of the United Nations belongs in this camp. Large chunks of European public opinion. Some in America at both ends of the political spectrum though more at the Left. Some of Israel's Arabs. And yes, there are Jews in this camp, including Jews in Israel. Not many, but a few. I estimate there are probably a few thousand Jewish anti-Zionist Israelis, from a Jewish population that is approaching six million- so, they're a tiny minority - but quite vocal.
The Jewish anti-Zionists know perfectly well they've got nothing to fear from the rest of us, no matter how much they express their derision for us. We're a strong and tolerant democracy, and we don't persecute people for belonging to the second rank of our enemies. (First rank enemies, yes, which is sometimes confusing when individuals play on the line - but that's a different topic). Our public sphere is characterized by a high level of verbal invective and a very low level of physical violence, so anti-Zionists have invective thrown at them, but no projectiles; the tiny number of exceptions prove the rarity. Their participation in the second rank of the war against us doesn't hinder their living normal lives amongst us.
The problem facing the NIF is that the anti-Zionist Israels tend to converge in some of the NIF-grantee NGOs. Worse, the same NGOs often serve the external second-rank enemies even when their members aren't anti-Zionist themselves. Take yesterday's case which I blogged about earlier today. HRW and the present internal Israeli discussion:
Following years in which a tiny minority of Israelis has informed the second rank enemies of Israel that Israeli democracy is crumbling, that Israeli troops routinely commit war crimes, and that the Israeli leadership commits crimes against humanity, a wonderfully democratic conversation has finally happened, in which the majority confronts the tiny minority with the significance of its actions. No one - NO ONE - is suggesting the minority be shut up, its organizations shut down, and certainly not that any legal action be taken against them. No law against them has been mooted, and of course none legislated - nor will such a law be passed. No one arrested, no one physically harassed. One person, Naomi Hazan, is being mocked, which is bad taste - but that's all. Bad taste is permitted in free societies.
In response, Human Rights Watch is warning that Israeli democracy - and thus, make no mistake, Israel's legitimacy - is eroding. This is, I have no better way to say it, a blatant, malicious and intentional lie. Sarah Lee Whitson of HRW, however, doesn't know Hebrew, and lacks even the flimsiest understanding of Israeli society. How she forms her opinions I do not know, but where she gets some of her false information with which to bolster them, that I do know. She gets them from anti-Zionist Israelis, and she gets them from useful idiots, to use the Soviet term. One conveyor belt for the transmission of these sort of lies, half-lies and twisted misrepresentations, are NIF grantee NGOs; moreover, this activity is at the heart of what they do. It's not a regrettable coincidence at the edge of their activity.
This, Naomi, is the case the NIF must respond to. So far, in 10 days of public furor, no-one at the NIF has made even the feeblest attempt to do so, preferring to use legal measures to shut up their critics (they failed, obviously: we're a democracy), and to complain loudly about how criticism of them is a failure of Israeli democracy. It isn't. It's an expression of the democracy.
In Yiddish, that magnificent language of sardonic irony, there's a term for the NIF's behaviour right now. Roughly translated: a Cossack complaining of being robbed.