Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Response to Naomi Paiss

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.


Anonymous said...

one more typo which may be bad on Google besides Victor's Respnse should be Response
its not Ben Muranke it's Ben Murane
and thanks a lot of that post

Anonymous said...

here is NIF's staff - Naomi Paiss comes top at Communications, Ben Murane may be found under "New York" - so it looks like this blog has been "promoted"

Anonymous said...

Yaacov -

What a wonderful,clarifying, excellent post. Thanks for all the effort you put in. And thanks for returning us to rational discourse.
I will try to write something a little later.


AKUS said...


I think you are being asked if you can repost with the spelling of "response" in the URL corrected?


should be (I assume):


Anonymous said...

2 Thoughts:

1) How do you distinguish between "false accusations" and "allegations that turn out to be untrue."? I guess you have to look at the nature of the claim and claimant. Is there a basis or probable cause? What is the claimant's motivation and agenda? How was this information obtained? Does the claimant cherry pick or selectively interpret? Are they truly "reasoned and thoughtful"? (Naomi Paiss' words)

It seems to me, that this type of review should constantly be done. Is it wrong to ask NIF to look at who they are funding critically? Can Im Tirzu make a case that these NGOs act with bad intentions or irresponsibly? Can NIF make a case that they didn't? Are any of the groups funded by the NIF truly out to undermine the existence of the Jewish State?

2) Invective. Why do people use it? It spoils the discussion and it makes the speaker look foolish. Stewart Ain wrote a piece about the NIF/Im Tirzu "Brouhaha" in the Jewish Week. Ain quotes Im Tirzu founder Ronen Shoval as saying the human rights groups, and by extension NIF money, "are helping Hamas." Ain also quoted the report as saying "that without the NIF funded NGOs' reports 'Goldstone would have nothing to base most of the claims' he made against Israel."

Does anyone really believe that given the source and composition of Goldstone's committee, if there were no NGOs' reports, the committee's outcome would be any different? Does anyone seriously think that Hamas needs the help of the Goldstone report? Does anyone think that if Goldstone didn't have the NGOs' reports, the committee would have written a report saying Israel behaved perfectly during the war? And with such a report, Hamas would be convinced of the errors of their ways and decided to make peace with Israel?

Ain also quotes Naomi Paiss as saying ridiculous things, too. "Had that [an independent inquiry into the events of Gaza], perhaps there would not have been a Goldstone report." First, does Paiss have a basis for saying the IDF investigation is insufficient? If so, what is it? Second, would the UN have accepted any Israeli investigation? I think there would have been a Goldstone report, regardless.

Ain also quotes Paiss as saying there is a "coordinated attempt to delegitimize Israeli civil society and repress human rights groups and tolerance for dissent and honesty." "We think it's a suppression of free speech and that they want the human rights community in Israel to be defunded and defeated."

Wow! Well, what words does she have left to describe the situation in Iran or China? I think a little perspective is called for.


Anonymous said...

"Two sorts of enemies"? In a democracy, people who have different sorts of visions for how the state should define itself aren't "enemies of the state", but rather free citizens engaged in democratic discourse. Are datiim who want a halachic state "enemies"? Are secular Israelis who want a liberal democracy "enemies"? Are non-zionist haredim "enemies"? Your definition of "enemy" is an extremely dangerous one for a democracy.

Yaacov said...

Akus -

The problem was in the title, not the url which is unimportant so long as it's stable.

Anonymous -

While I sometimes respond to anonymous questions, your case would be stronger if you stood behind it with a name (or explained why not, see Akus).

Anonymous said...

the radio pieces accompanying the presentation of the Goldstone report in my country hammered me with Israel did this and Israel did that and even this and that Israeli voice said it, so that by implication Hamas looked like the good boys the desperate freedom fighters with the under the circumstances impeccable behaviour.

- now I am retired I have the time to check up on what I get told by serious radio pieces. When I was still working and when there was no internet yet I had hardly a chance. I didn't believe the slandering even then but that was based on pure probability assessments and therefore chance was that I might have been wrong

- I wasn't wrong of course and reporting around the last Lebanon war told me that the situation is a lot more dire than I had imagined i.e. the slanderers more brazen and more inventive

that's why I believe it matters who is quoted in the Goldstone report and who vouches for it and who presents it to a mostly unsuspecting public.

Judith said...

I had a creative moment and posted my take on the NIF problem on Engage http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/stand-up-for-nif-stand-up-for-israeli-democracy/#comment-8804. I'd love to hear what people think.

Victor said...

For the record, a comprehensive list of controversial activities attributed to NIF and its grantees, courtesy of the NGO Monitor.

Anonymous said...

I just got to see the Im Tirzu print ad. The text reads:

"Fact! Without the New Israel Fund, there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes"

..And they got excited about the horn?! The horn looks like a party hat in the drawing! The graphic is just pointless (pun intended)!

My point is Israel has no shortage of accusers. The ad states an opinion, not a fact, -- and I say it's an opinion that would be difficult to support. (that's my opinion.)

Now, the ad also states:

"Major NIF organizations signed a letter calling on Britain to prosecute senior IDF officers for war crimes."

Here is something really specific we can look into and judge its truth. If it is true, than NIF has something to answer for regarding these organizations.

Silke -
I agree that an opinion from an Israeli can sound more damning than a non-Israeli one. But I also think people believe what they want to believe. (BTW, I always appreciate your comments on this blog.)


Anonymous said...

thanks for the compliment which I return with pleasure

I agree that this bombardment with very one-sided Israel depictions doesn't make any difference to people who have a belief. But there are lots and lots, in fact probably the majority, who don't care one way or another. But then one day they will have to vote on something and then it will matter which view is most familiar to them.

Also I grant that Israel may not expect much from the European Union but to keep the majority of their voters at least closer to neutral is desirable. As I read more and more often that Germany has become a player again that matters (I was very content living in a country that had to keep mostly mum) and that it is a heavy weight within the EU I am worried that we the people get educated in such a - besides everything else - stupidly biased way.

For example the Goldstone Report was "promoted" by an obviously not only in years very old man who had survived the camps - he said terrible things but on the other hand you can't expect everybody who had to go through those horrors to remain level-headed so, while I felt truly sorry for him I would have liked to throw piles of invectives at the people who paraded him as a poster-man for their cause.

Gavin said...

Nycerbarb. In this context the difference between allege and accuse is that the party making the statement must acknowledge that the claim is unproven, or may not be true, for it to be an allegation. An accusation is a statement of fact, and one only needs to ask... "Have these NGOs ever admitted that they might be wrong?".

'Allegation' is being thrown around now in a desperate attempt to mitigate the claims made against the NGOs and NIF. "we weren't actually accusing Israel of anything, we were just bringing up stories that had been passed on to us and which need investigating". Unfortunately for those NGOs it is easily verified that the stories and claims were of their own creation, thereby making them entirely responsible for all the false claims which were made.

The term 'allegation' should be struck from the debate. They were false accusations, pure & simple.


Anonymous said...

there is something going on between The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier (who wrote something very nice about Ariel Sharon when the stroke hit him) and Andrew Sullivan.
I just read Wieseltier's 5 pages and I think he has a lot of points which may come in handy in this context here.

But watch out: part I is as wieseltierish as Wieseltier can get - the fisking of Andrew Sullivan starts with part II and I like it except for one sentence: "... an occupation, which is terrible." As I have spent all my early years way into my twenties in an occupied or later on de facto occupied country. I assure you there was nothing terrible about it. When the Americans started leaving in numbers I felt very sorry for myself.

BTW Sullivan and it seems his admirers are trying to counter Wieseltier's severe accusations by ridiculing him for being long winded and - well - wieseltierish.
But even if he is, on the whole I have less of a problem following him than normal and lots of what he brings up is damning, much harsher than all Yaacov and Jeffrey Goldberg have picked on over the months every now and then.


Jon said...

Silke, I'm new; where are you from?

Alex Stein said...


Alex Stein said...


Anonymous said...

I am German, living in Germany

Barry Meislin said...

Related, alas... to this "discussion."

Barry Meislin said...

Here's that link:


Barry Meislin said...

And in case one has, as seems the case, forgotten...or really wants to go that extra mile to forget:


Anonymous said...

Barry Meislin and all of you

in case somebody wants to hear live the amount of heckling going on when Daniel Ayalon speaks: here he is at the London School of Economics on October 26, 2009 - the clamour only quieted down somewhat after the host declared that he understood the grievances of the hecklers or even - if my memory is correct - that he sympathized with them. Free Speech - phew!!!
and if somebody wants a real good piece on how destructive bad manners can get and how helpless polite society reacts I recommend Mark Twain on the subject (second link)



Anonymous said...

about Daniel Ayalon
I wanted to find a video of the LSE event mentioned above, there is none, but I found this mind-blowing remark - Limited!!! I wonder under which circumstances they'd be willing to upgrade to extensive!!! which would still be an understatement.

"There was a limited amount of barricking of the speaker during this event, we apologise if this spoils your enjoyment of the recording."
scroll down: http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/podcasts/publicLecturesAndEvents.htm#generated-subheading5

Gavin said...

If anyone wants a bit of a chuckle I'd recommend reading the link that Alex gave above. Take an open mind to it and see it for what it is... a pitiful attempt at rebutting an argument that I find quite humorous. It really is that bad.

(Notes before reading it... of the Israeli sources mentioned, who made actual submissions to the Goldstone mob and who didn't. Why are the NGOs submissions about issues other than Cast Lead being excluded by the author when the Goldstone report included them... and so on)

Anonymous said...

it looks like Michael Oren in the US is not faring much better than Daniel Ayalon in Britain