Monday, February 8, 2010

Response to Ben Murane, New Israel Fund

Ben Murane signed up this week at blogger and began defending the NIF from its Im Tirzu critics. He has been active at this blog; I assume he's active elsewhere, also. I'm assuming someone at NIF US gave him the task of dealing with the blogger front. Nothing wrong with that, of course. He has stirred up quite a bit of discussion here; I've decided it's valuable enough to bring back to the front of the blog. I appreciate that all participants have been civil. Unfortunately this is not obvious in today's blogosphere.

Ben also suggested an interesting link, to an article by Ron Kampeas. I don't think I've read Kampeas before, and we probably disagree on some matters of substance, but Ben's right. It's an interesting article.

There's one major fallacy in Ben's argumentation which somehow hasn't been mentioned yet, but first, allow me a quick recap of matters we've already hashed.

1. The Im Tirzu campaign is in poor taste. Even taking aim at Naomi Hazan personally without the offensive caricature is poor taste; she has been in the public eye for decades, and we all know that she's basically harmless. There are mudslingers in all corners of the Israeli political arena, but Hazan has never been one of them. In addition, it has enabled the NIF to turn the debate from its substance to its form. The one thing still not resolved in my mind is the extent to which the furor was fed by the poor taste. Might a benign and polite campaign have disappeared after 15 seconds of fame, while this one is still here in its second week? If so, for all the regret, perhaps Im Tirzu got it right?

2. The NIF and many of its grantees have done much good in Israel. They cannot take as much credit as their recent publications and statements might have us believe, but there's no way to cast them as consistently negative. Having said this, there are parts of the story they're not trumpeting at the moment, such as low-profile but consistent discrimination against all settlers, as a group. Try posting a wanted ad on their classifieds board for something related to a settlement. How does this fit into human rights, you might ask? It doesn't of course. Regular readers will recollect how I documented another facet of this bias, here (and follow the internal links for more).

3. The fact of NIF grantees supplying false and derogatory information to the Goldstone report is well documented. I've written about this a number of times over the past six months or so, and no-one listened. Along came Im Tirzu and were nasty about it, and suddenly the whole relevant world is agog. I recognize that this blog is not very significant, but it also tries to be calm and measured. More elbow power to Im Tirzu: they know how to get their point across to a broad public. Sources? Read chapter XXV of the Goldstone report, for example, which is based almost entirely on NIF-NGOs, and is basically a lie in its entirety. That's for starters. Some of my thoughts on the matter are here and here. And of course, there was the trip to Hebron,which I wrote about here).

Now, to the major fallacy. Ben compares the NIF and its grantees to the ACLU and says that just as no-one tires to shut them down so it shoud be incomprehensible that anyone in Israel would touch the local human rights organizations, exasperating as they may be. Set aside the matter that no-one is suggesting they get shut down, merely have their funding looked into, the comparison is profoundly wrong.

American human rights organizations don't try to drag their country to foreign forums to be judged. The Israeli NGOs do. They make no secret of the matter; they're proud of it. To rephrase this, the American discussion takes place within the sovereignty of the United States. The Israeli one takes place in an international court of public opinion, politics, diplomacy and boycotts, where Israel's very existence is the heart of the discussion. I'm not going to get into the details, because we all know it to be true: Israel is at war over its right to exist. There are Israelis on the side of Israel's enemies. Some are there with full intent; others are there by default. The result is the same.

For the NIF to be comparable with the ACLU it wold have to publicize its findings in Hebrew, and Hebrew alone. The reality is the opposite.

Last year I once asked a CEO of one of these organizations why they publish so much in English. His answer was simple: our supporters don't know Hebrew. We must raise funds, and that can only be done if our supporters see what we're doing. (We need the international community, since Israeli democracy alone won't go where we want it to go).

You begin to see why the Im Tirzu attack on funding is so threatening to these folks.

Personally, I didn't believe the chap. True, they need to raise funds, and there aren't enough Israelis who might support them. My feeling, however, has always been that there's a second reason.They wish to appear in a better light before their non-Israeli friends, as in "Yes, our regime is ghastly, but we, tho a minority, we're your type of folks".


This Is Hell said...

So essentially the problem is merely one of labeling. Don't call NIF or any similarly agendized NGO a 'rights' organization. Instead simply call them the media, funding and PR fronts of dedicated antizionist, anti Israeli and possibly antisemitic organizations which, on occasion do some plausible good, much like the social welfare arms of Hamas and Hezbollah. Then we can all get along fine.

Victor said...

Yaacov, the "in English" point you raise can help explain why Hazan and her lawyers decided to target Jpost for libel and incitement, and not the many other Israeli papers which also ran the advertisement.

Of them all, Jpost is the only paper that significantly prints in English and is geared to the English speaking audience, both in Israel and internationally.

Maariv is a major newspaper (3rd largest?), and also ran the advertisement, but with an insignificant English department, if any.

Victor said...

Just finished reading all your links.

All this "vigorous civic debate" is precisely the kind of "soul-searching" the NIF claims it wants to generate in Israeli society.

If they had any brains, NIF would take credit for spawning Im Tirzu's contributions to public dialogue - a dialogue that NIF began, through its affiliated organizations - and then rebut the allegations against it in a dignified way, once and for all.

There is something strange and unseemly in the anger and vitriol Im Tirzu generated in its opponents.

Anonymous said...

For sure I am not the first to have googled Ben Murane but this site which came up first is so well ... ??? (The Jew and the Carrot) I want to share it just in case it is the same Ben
when I click on Ben Murane's website link I get told that judaismwithoutborders.COM doesn't exist but get offered a where I get to read a Kung-Fu-Jew telling me in connection with the current story that "I and all the things I stand for are under attack"
Weird, maybe "our" Ben Murane wasn't for real, will not show up again or turn out to be an alias or "brother" of Mr. Fake.
In case anybody knows anybody close to the NIF a check might be advisable.
Not to claim I'm wise after the fact but Ben seemed kind of non-professionally clumsy in his argumentation to start with.

Anonymous said...

"We must raise funds, and that can only be done if our supporters see what we're doing. (We need the international community, since Israeli democracy alone won't go where we want it to go)."

Oh, come on, Yaacov- You know as well as anybody that pretty much *all* NGOs and amutot in Israel are dependent on "foreign" funds, Im Tirtzu included. This entire country has been built on hand outs from the diaspora Jewish community, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. Yad va'Shem caters to foreign donors no less than human rights organizations - and that certainly doesn't make them less committed to Israeli society.

Yaacov said...

I've got no problem with fundraising. I've engaged in it myself. If your supporters will support you only after you give them the satisfaction of besmirching your country, and damaging it in an important arena, it's time to find a diferent model. Or a different cause, or a diferent job.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...


You're wrong. Both Maariv and Ynet received the same "threat" (if it was a threat; remember, the JPost didn't publish its exact wording), but they didn't fire their NIF contributors. See here.

Yaacov said...

It was a threat, Fake Ibrahim. Couched in polite legalese, of course, but its avowed purpose was to shut down the Im Tirzu campaign. I can't quote my source, but then i don't owe it to you anyway. Still, this piece from the haaretz website essentialy says the same -and note that Kadari is a partner in the firm that wrote the letter.

Youre right: Maariv and Y-net did't fire Hazan. Of course, they never hired her in the first place, either.

Give it a rest, Fake Ibrahim.

Victor said...

Jpost is publishing gushing pro-Hazan article today. It's so... ugh... I mean... just ugh... Is Naomi Chazan a martyr yet?

Where's that censorship they promised us.

Avram said...

Is Fake Ibrahim the poster known as Hasbara Buster? If he is, you should see his racist & Anti-Semitic postings on the Elder of Ziyon blogspot. There he's said things like, "All Israeli Jews are racist," or "Orthodox Jews abuse children" etc ... He's one hateful elitist.

Alex Stein said...

Yaacov - do you think the settler movement, for example, gets any less of its funding from abroad (leaving aside the government funds that get ploughed into that enterprise, to the detriment of communities dying in the periphery) than the likes of the NIF?

Anonymous said...

are there settlers in the settler movement who cooperate with those who want to delegitimize Israel?
Citizens of a country alternatively under siege or at war who smear their military to the outside suffer from some strange kind of delusion or worse.

If a feeling for what is decent doesn't tell them that that is a No-No in polite society a bit of very selfish pragmatism may help them to see the light.

How can anyone forget that no matter what grievance he or she has with your government or how your country is run that there are fellow-citizens who got maimed or killed or who had to witness horrors humans should be spared to witness?

How can anyone believe that one doesn't owe to these fellow citizens?

Even I, far away in Europe, owe to your military because if Israel should blink (honestly and shrewdly negotiating is not blinking) I think that would be a big boost to those never smiling disapproving of us men and women we try ever harder to appease.


Sylvia said...

As usual, your question is based on a fallacy.
We have no problem with funding from abroad, what we demand from NIF is transparency as to the identity of ALL its donors, and its response has been so far more demagoguery.
We know who is funding everybody else, except for NIF.

And please be aware that this old mantra, "settlers at the detriment of the periphery" has been put to rest even by the hard left since the Gaza withdrawal. What did we get, except more rockets from those NIF activists have consistently called in our faces "freedom fighters"?

Alex Stein said...

Sylvia - if you are right that the NIF does not disclose who it's funders are, then it should be more transparent.

Anon - the settler movement inherently delegitimises the State of Israel: it's fundamentally anti-Zionist.

Naomi Paiss said...

Several points in what is a civil discussion:

1. Ben Murane does represent the NIF and so do I. I'm NIF's communications director. He really exists, trust me.
2. NIF's funding sources are completely transparent, every Annual Report is on our website, read for yourselves.
3. The ACLU's audience is primarily but not completely domestic. Certainly there were many Americans that thought their exposure of waterboarding, for example, gave comfort and propaganda points to the many enemies of the U.S. At the point where a democracy will not self-examine because the results can be used by the country's enemies, something much more precious than propaganda points are lost. I don't like seeing our groups' work cited by real enemies of Israel, of which there are many, but that is not reason to stop or censor their work.
4. The New Israel Fund opposes the occupation as a central tenet of our strategic framework. There are many wealthy organizations funding settler enterprises, we do not and will not. We do listen, however; I myself spent a day in Gush Katif before the disengagement meeting with settlers there. You would be surprised at the range of opinions within the NIF family, some of our organizations are well to the right of us on some issues.
5. Our grantmaking process is rigorous. Rather than an ideological litmus test, we ask for evidence of efficacy on the ground. Some of the groups who provoke the most controversy are the ones who have most advanced civil rights for minorities, through litigation, organizing and other tactics.
6. We believe we legitimize Israel in the strongest sense. When Israel's defenders refer to it as the only democracy in the Middle East, frequently it is the acomplishments of our family of organizations that are cited. Take a look at what the Iranian Minister of the Interior said about his country's HR activists last week and at similar statements from China and Russia. This is not the crowd that Israel wants to be hanging with.

Anonymous said...

my point was not that Water-Boarding shouldn't have been exposed - my point was that the NIF threw around in short succession three of the most common attention triggers all three of which I grade as hyperbole in this context.

I am glad to read that Ben Murane is for real, therefore the next question:

is he the same as the Ben Murane on the Jew and Carrot site?
or is that another Ben Murane?
and if he is the same what is or was his connection to


Yaacov said...

Naomi -

My response to you is here:

Gavin said...

Naomi. You have contradicted yourself. You made this statement;

"The New Israel Fund opposes the occupation as a central tenet of our strategic framework. There are many wealthy organizations funding settler enterprises, we do not and will not."

Then you say.....

"Our grantmaking process is rigorous. Rather than an ideological litmus test, we ask for evidence of efficacy on the ground."

The first statement clearly says that you do base your grants on an ideological litmus test. It can only be the amount of money you grant which is based on efficacy, and from that we can read that those who promote your ideological ambitions the hardest receive the largest grants.

It is these (frequent and obvious) contradictions which lose you credibility.