Friday, February 5, 2010

NIF, Democracy, Decency and Other Problems

Earlier this week I wrote about the New Israel Fund (NIF) affair that just blew up (here and here). As it was easy to foretell, the usual suspects immediately swung into action to portray the attack on the NIF as a bold attack on Israel's democracy. That was a no-brainer. Haaretz takes it one step further, and is digging deep into the matter of who funds Im Tirzu, the organization which launched the attack. If memory serves, it was only a few months ago that questions were raised about the sources of funding that benefit left-wing organizations, at which time they branded such questions as.... A threat to democracy.

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!


Ben Murane, New Israel Fund said...

Thanks for the nuanced consideration, Yaakov.

I'll say first that the campaign against Naomi Chazan is shameful -- and anti-Semitic.

Secondly, Im Tirtzu's campaign is completely based on distortion: two Maariv reporters rebutted the claims, pointing out that only 14% of citations are from Israeli human rights groups, and that there are over 450 Israeli sources in the Goldstone report, including statements by Israeli generals, politicians and even (oh my) Maariv itself!

But more importantly, this is what human rights organizations do. When the American Civil Liberties Union broke the story about photographs from Abu-Ghraib, Americans were not proud. We were decidedly uncomfortable. But for the American Congress to investigate the ACLU for presenting "damaging information in a time of war," as the bill in the Knesset proposes, was not considered even once. We expect and depend on these groups to hold up a mirror to us and help us bridge the gap between our reality and our aspirations.

Let's not pretend: this a far-far-right campaign against human rights, seeking to defund and silence the defenders of universal rights. That part is what we claim is anti-democratic and threatening to the vibrant society Israel should keep.

We're asking all supporters of NIF and democracy to contact PM Netanyahu and stop this wasteful and politically-motivated bill. Full info at

Gavin said...

Certainly struck a nerve there Yaacov. I fail to see where democracy enters the picture here, if the majority of Israelies want the activities of NGOs brought into line then that's democracy at work. A minority group exerting influence beyond it's actual numbers, due to foreign funding, is the very antithesis of democracy.

I'm still bemused by the phosporus business, it seems to be one of those defining issues that tell us who Israels enemies are. The 'senior Maariv reporter' who allegedly rebutted the claims made this statement;

"two high-ranking officers who had a disciplinary hearing after they approved the use of phosphorous bombs and endangered lives." in her link to the Washington Post article which said nothing of the kind.

The IDF is very specific in their report that the officers were disciplined for authorising the use of explosive shells. Not phosporus smoke shells which don't explode but explosive shells, ie artillery.

These people must have a reasonable intellect, they can read & write after all so they can't be entirely stupid. How is it they make such fools of themselves over this phosphorus affair? Whay are they denying facts which make the accusations against their country less harsh?

Regards, Gavin

Anonymous said...

Ben Murane,
I object to your calling Mr. Netanyahu "Bibi" while acting from abroad just as you would undoubtedly and rightfully so sniff a whiff of Anti-Americanism would I call your president "Barry".

There is nothing about Mr. Netanyahu while performing his official functions that asks for calling him cute nicknames, especially not on a site promoting a petition.

When way way back we wrote "I like Ike" those were graffitis not petitions to be delivered to the Oval Office. I assume Mr. Netanyahu is entitled to the same kind of respect.


Gavin said...

Just musing on this further Yaacov. The basic logic in the reaction of NIF & their suporters is fundamentally flawed and I've often wondered if the left can see their irrationality or if they're totally blind to it.

If freedom of speech is to be an absolute right then critics of the NGOs have as much right to voice their views as the NGOs have to voice theirs. The NGOs got all precious when their funding sources were questioned, yet their immediate response to this issue is to question the funding of their critic and call it undemocratic.

How can people claim the mantle of representing universal rights when they deny the right of anyone to criticise them? It's just so illogical, yet they never acknowledge or admit to a basic error of reasoning. I've about given up trying to find a rational explanation for it, maybe I've missed something (?)

Regards, Gavin

Barry Meislin said...

It appears that you are, indeed, missing something.

(Not to worry, overly, though; you're not alone....)

A long-winded, if concise, explanation goes like this:
1. The currently held world-wide "narrative" (and hence "unassailable fact") is that Israel represents the single most obvious, most despicable, most intransigent, most obstreperous, most obnoxious, most murderous, most racist, most genocidal obstacle to peace in the Middle East (and hence, obviously, on the planet).

This "unassailable fact" has been repeated so often that it must be true; moreover, it's been repeated by all the most peace-loving, humane, loving and benign regimes in the world ad infinitum, ad nauseum, which means that it clearly must be true.

In other words, there can be no disputing it.

2. Therefore, quite clearly, any (and every) criticism of Israel is made by those whose only wish, whose dearest intent is to prevent war and promote peace.

Note that this goes for any (and all) criticism, whether it is based on shards of truth or based entirely on false, invented, and made up stories, statistics, "events", hearsay, etc.

You see, the intention is good, is pure (and in many cases, is holy). ("We've all heard of fake but accurate", etc....)

3. Therefore, any criticism of those who criticize Israel, on whatever grounds, is made (must be made, you understand) with the intention of undermining, of muzzling, of deligitimizing those pure, earnest, and peace-loving, souls whose only goal is the pursuit of peace.

Those nasty, nasty (Zionist!!) critics of those poor of critics of Israel.

It really doesn't get much simpler than that.

Yaacov said...

Ben -

I don't know if Im Tirzu's campaign is antisemitic. It's bad taste, yes - but lots of Israeli political discussion seems in bad taste if your taste buds are American. I assure you, quite a bit of the invective hurled by Left-wing Israelis over the years has been equally bad taste - so I suggest you walk back from that line of argumentation. Glass houses and all that, you know. Anyway, it's a distraction.

The real issue is the succor given by various Israeli NGOs to the Goldstone group. On this serious matter, the NIF and its grantees certainly have a case to answer. I don't need Im Tirzu to know this - I wrote it myself, months ago, after I finished reading the Goldstone report. At the time I requested from a number of leading figures in some of these groups (I know them personally) if they might wish to explain their actions. They never even responded. Because that's how they see the world: they're right, and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong; they're intelligent, everyone else is blinded by this that or the other.

The comparison with Abu Ghraib is false. The case the NIF must respond to is that it's people are feeding Israel's enemies with lies and distortions of the truth at time of war. I don't think that's what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Ironically, the NIF is causing great damage to Israeli democracy. By tarnishing the entire field of human rights and watchdogs of democracy, they're achieving the opposite of their stated goal. Since you seem to work for them, I suggest you tell your employers they're dealing with this exactly wrong, and they're losing people such as myself who should be their natural targets.

PS. My Pre-Im_Tirzu conclusiong are here:

Anonymous said...

There's an excellent illustration here about the damage the left are doing to Israel Yaacov;

The IDF report was primarily intended to prevent the UN taking the Goldstone report any further, it was hugely important that your local media reported on it accurately and honestly. Haaretz have given Israels enemies at the UN an excuse to penalise Israel, the lie is out there now & it will never be retracted.


David Boxenhorn said...

BTW, "dugri" is a Turkish import: (Sorry to distract from this important discussion. OK, continue, please.)

Yaacov said...

Gavin -

I've downloaded the recent Israeli report but haven't found the time to read it. Just as all those other folks haven't, tho they probably didn't download it, either. What for, when we already know what we wish to say?

David - Interesting. Yes, it comes from the Turkish, but via the Palestinian version of Arabic. I.e. it's probably not used in Morocco, say, or the Emirates. To take that a step further, it's about a type of accepted communication the Palestinians and the Israelis have in common, which is unrecognizable in Europe or America, and perhaps also in much of the Arab world.

If that's indeed the case, of course.

Michael LeFavour said...


First time reader. Nice site and discussion. I am here from a link in a discussion at Noam Sheizaf's site. I always have something to say, but not sure if I always have something to add.

Mr Murane,

First, the campaign, (if that is what it can be called), against Naomi Chazan is not "anti-Semitic", it is the opposite, it is an effort to disempower anti-Semites by drying up fuel for the fire, so to speak. Naomi Chazan has become a stooge for those who have no good intentions for the state of Israel or its people. There must be an accounting for it.

Second, the 14% sourcing figure you site is irrelevant when discussing a narrow category within the report, perhaps I misunderstood Im Tirtzu's charges, but the figure they gave was for the percentage of alleged eyewitnesses Goldstone used to substantiate its report with. From what I understood, these so called sources were chosen overwhelmingly from organizations funded by the New Israel Fund and other hostile NGOS. There certainly was a feeding frenzy to demonise Israel once it became clear that a report was being drafted and an army of NIF funded hacks clamored forward with one story after another, each more incredulous than the last. The 14% figure, which includes "all" sources for the report sounds much better when you want to down play the heavy handedness of hostile, ideologically driven, anti-Israeli NGOs, such as those funded by NIF, but it is comparing apples to oranges when the total number of fruits are irrelevant.

Third, calling some of those NGOs human rights organizations is a mischaracterization. They are not breaking non-stories like Abu Graib, they are bearing false witness and in a time of war feeding propaganda to those entities trying to garner more impetus to join the war against Israel is treasonous. If you were on trial for a crime you did not commit and a witness gives false information to the jury I think you would be just a little bit upset as normal every day Israelis are at your organization for assisting a chorus of false witnesses against the state.

Anonymous said...

just read that a Haaretz-headline that Arab States at the UN are pushing to take Israel/the IDF via the Goldstone Report to The Hague. I hope Israel was as wise as the US and didn't join - ven if an investigation would clear it lily-white or not even get started due to lack of evidence it will keep the denouncing going.

Slander is a terrible business - no matter how insane/deluded/Fata-Morgana-ic, it'll always bears fruit


Barry Meislin said...


Yaacov said...

Wow. That one gets promoted to post status; a comment in a thread isn't enough.

I don't know if you're still here, but if you'd like to defend your organization I'm anxious to hear their side of this. As it stands, it's ugly.

Barry Meislin said...

Um, no comment.

(...but I thought that that particular post rather cut to the chase for all of us confused readers out there (or here).... Speaking of confusion, I imagine that Ms. Chazan is more than a bit confused: after slandering her country repeatedly and receiving only adulation, adoration, and acclaim, it was only reasonable for her to expect that she could sue her employer with impunity, and perhaps even receive a bonus for it. What a let down. Not fair! Etc. The obvious step for her is to make it a freedom of speech issue, a la Ward Churchill.... And who knows? Maybe she'll even convince herself.)

Ben Murane, New Israel Fund said...

Yaakov and company,

I'm happy to have a conversation about the role of human rights groups in a democracy.

But the rhetoric around NIF as excitedly "aiding Israel's destroyers" has got to stop. NIF has given $200 million to 800 grantees over 30 years. Our 16 grantees under fire here constitute barely 2% of our total grantees. We created the Israeli public interest law bar in the 80s -- it didn't exist until we trained young lawyers in that work. We seed granted and fund Israel's first nonprofits that tackle immigrants rights, environmentalism, women's rights, LGBT rights, education reform, Mizrachi and Ethiopian equality, disability rights, freedom of speech, and the place of progressive Judaism alongside Orthodoxy. Our grantees are the ones who wrote laws and passed verdicts that American Jews tout as proof of Israel's miraculous democracy.

Anonymous - Indeed I work on the American side, but the majority of our staff are Israelis and work in Israel. Maybe you didn't know. That said, thanks for your point.

Michael - In your well-meaning effort to disempower anti-Semites, will you strangle the principle of non-governmental watchdogs as well? Every society needs groups that verify and double-check the credibility of state information. Israel is no exception and never will be. Our detractors say any criticism of the state in wartime is treasonous, but we don't believe that and never will. The Goldstone report was definitely biased and damaging, but attacking human rights groups is the answer of countries like Russian and China, not Israel. The role of human rights groups is to highlight alleged wrongs, hoping the authorities will investigate. The Im Tirtzu report states itself that our grantees assisted the IDF to investigate 100 incidents of misconduct in Cast Lead. Was that false witness? No, apparently not at all. Democracy is complex, and the partnership between government and civil society is a cherished component.

To your last point, 14% is the percentage of grantee citations to total citations. Im Tirtzu misrepresents their number instead. Another example: one of those 16 orgs didn't publish a single report on Cast Lead; it just signed the petition for an independent investigation. So why is it one of the dirty 16? Misrepresentation only.

Yaacov - Forgive me, I made a mistake with the Abu Ghraib reference -- I meant the ACLU's newsbreaking of waterboarding. The roles of the 16 grantees under fire are the same as the ACLU; there were very similar arguments that evidence of waterboarding would be used by America's enemies. And was, as far as we know. But any talk about punishing the ACLU for fueling America's enemies belonged where it lay: the anti-democratic fringe. Once again, our 16 grantees didn't publish lies or distortions, they published alleged infractions which they called on Israel's government to investigate. Because that's the job of human rights groups. Worldwide, that is the role of human rights groups. Israel is not and will never be an exception.

The Im Tirtzu campaign isn't about a nuanced conversation around complex issues -- it's a campaign led by a leader of the Orange Cell settler group and funded by far-right pro-settler allies against the entire human rights field.

I thank you for engaging me in a rational discussion and I'm happy to discuss the moral complexities behind this issue further.

Ben Murane, New Israel Fund said...

For more on this, I recommend Ron Kampeas' excellent analysis at the JTA blog.

Gavin said...

An interesting play on statistics there Ben. Another way of explaining the same scenario is that the 15 grantees received eight percent of the entire 30yrs worth of NIF funding. In only 2-3 years. Unless you deny they received nearly $8million from NIF between 2006-2008?

Curious you resort to the very trick you accuse your detractor of; that of misusing numbers to distort the relevance of the issue.


Gavin said...

Type on my last post... meant four percent of total funding over 2-3yrs. One does wonder what percentage of NIF funding each year they do receive.... it is certainly more than two percent.

aiwac said...


You claim to be dealing with "complex moral issues", but all I hear from your post is preening self-righteousness.

1) Dripping sarcastic venom about the "miraculous" Israeli dmeocracy those annoying American Jews talk about will not win you friends here. Neither is counter-smearing -

I object to Im Tirtzu's campaign as being in very bad taste, but they are not a "fringe-religious-settler" group or whatever deragatory term you want for them. They are a broad-based student group that has been trying to increase Zionist awareness on Israeli campuses for a while now. I say this as someone who has actually followed them for a while and do not rely on second-hand smears.

2) You argue that your opponents commit misdirection, yet you yourself do so when you discuss the great work NGOs do in other areas of society, which has nothing to do with what we're talking about. As a talmid chacham might say, what does Shmita have to do with Har Sinai?

It's like arguing that those guilty of Abu Ghraib should be let off because 98% of the time they're model human beings.

3) I'm glad to hear that you realize that allegations made by NGOs are just that - allegations.

Unfortunately, in the media and in liberal discussion they are too often treated as established fact.

You claim that you hope the authorities will investigate, but do you? It might turn out that the allegations were wrong; would you guys admit as much, publicly?

My experience with NGOs in the media is that if investigations don't go their way, they simply cry "cover-up" or pretend the allegation never happened.

4) Last, but not least, you do not acknowledge the problematics of supporting anti-Israel NGOs, including Zochrot (which supports the Right of Return). I don't care if it is only 2 or 3 percent of your budget...why do you give them any money at all?

Complexity means acknowledging that there are other factors in play besides the "rights discourse" - issues like Zionism, social norms and legitimate concerns such as security. Complexity means that sometimes you are in the wrong.

Your post does not show any of this, so please stop pretending otherwise.

David Boxenhorn said...

Ben, your words are excellent support for Im Tirtzu. The basis of a free society can only be free speech. Appending the words "Human Rights" to your name doesn't give you any special privileges. (That would be too easy to falsify, you understand that, right?) In fact, Im Tirtzu is one of the "groups that verify and double-check the credibility of state [and NGO] information". You know, in societies where they don't allow free speech they usually have lots of military and spy agencies who all watch each other. That's because the dictator can't trust any one organization to do the work; it would give them too much power. In free societies we can have one army and one intelligence agency precisely because we have freedom of speech. Who will watch the watchers? In a dictatorship that's a big problem, and dictators tend to get overthrown. In a free society the answer is everyone can watch everyone else, and we can do it only because everyone can say what they think, and everyone can analyze the evidence. It so happens that in this case, Im Tirtzu is right and NIF is wrong. That's OK, it happens. Maybe NIF gets other things right. Stop trying to silence your critics. Go fix yourself and get back to work.

Anonymous said...

first you throw the biggest brick in your arsenal and if that doesn't hold you grab the second biggest and claim that you mixed up Abu Ghraib and Water-Boarding.

If I believe you there then that must be the two accusations you habitually use as images in arguments. To be very friendly about it that hints to very very lazy thinking and puts you very close to people who evoke Hitler and Stalin and PolPot etc. even for comparatively very minor evils. I for one am pretty sure that the IDF has done nothing in Gaza that one could in good conscience compare to WaterBoarding.

Besides that I keep wondering about those people who seem to enjoy nothing more than remind the world of their own country's missteps on every occasion in the most drastic terms. What do you get out of it?
Smear as Smear can be !!! come out top dog in smearing competitions?

oh and btw why don't you explain by which reasoning the initial decision was taken to fund those NGOs to which you do not seem to want to be connected closely any longer?

Yaacov said...


My response to you is here

Michael LeFavour said...

Mr Murane,

I never suggested that all NGOs should be shut down, but NGOs with an anti-Israel bias cause great harm in an atmosphere of outrageous world hostility toward Israel. They should be held accountable to the false witness they bear and harm they cause. That is not strangling a lofty principle, that is self preservation in the face of a relentless demonisation campaign.

The fact is, NIF supports bias against a beleaguered state and fuels anti-Jewish hatred. Why? Israel is surrounded by jackals tearing bits of it apart piece by piece, if you are trying to make the ridiculous case that more of these jackals are needed you are wasting your time. Verifying state information may be a noble goal, but writing divestment letters and interfering with soldiers trying to keep Jews safe is not even in the same category as what you are trying to portray.

Saying that attacking human rights groups is what China would do is a straw man. Nobody is suggesting legitimate human rights groups engaged in actual human rights work should be attacked. What definitely needs to be done is to get rid of groups hiding behind a fig leaf with the sole objective of harming the state. There is a difference between the role of a watch dog and that of an attack dog. My only question is does the decision makers at NIF see the difference? Because from where I stand they seem more than a little confused.