For years, the leaders of the politically powerful New Israel Fund (NIF) have
compounded their problems by ignoring their own errors and shifting the focus to
whistle- blowers and research watchdogs, as scandal follows scandal.
responding to more evidence of support for anti-Zionist causes, Rabbi Brian
Lurie, who is taking over from Naomi Chazan as NIF president, again ignored
these major problems.
He instead called for others to undertake cheshbon
nefesh – soul searching (“The new leader of the New Israel Fund,” September 19,
2011) in the spirit of the Days of Awe. But in the Jewish tradition, this
process starts at home, as each individual is responsible for accounting for his
or her own activities.
The NIF’s problems begin with its highly secretive
funding process for political and social groups in Israel, contributing to the
lack of accountability and numerous blatantly false claims. In the past,
officials declared that they had ended funding for the Coalition of Women for
Peace, which, despite its name, is a leader in the BDS movement.
Monitor showed, NIF funding continued secretly for at least two additional
Instead of an angry attack on watchdogs such as NGO Monitor, Lurie
could and should have apologized for false statements.
Now, Lurie has
asserted that NIF has “repeatedly reported” that it no longer funds an
Israeli-Arab political advocacy organization named Mada al- Carmel, a group that
calls the “global spread of political discourse of two states for two people...
regrettable.” In fact, this is the first such public statement by an NIF
official – a potentially important, although belated, move by NIF to implement
its own guidelines.
However, since the most recent financial report on
NIF’s website is from 2010, and it lists a $100,000 donation to Mada al-Carmel,
Lurie’s claim is impossible to independently verify. Israeli citizens, whose
lives are greatly influenced by the decisions made by the distant NIF officials,
are right to demand independent verification, rather than accepting statements
Lurie, who lives in San Francisco, also repeats the mantra
that: “all organizations funded by or through NIF must meet our funding
guidelines.” However, as NGO Monitor has repeatedly demonstrated in
fully-sourced research, NIF supports a number of NGOs that violate the ban on
support for groups that deny “the right of the Jewish people to sovereign
self-determination within Israel.” NIF funds groups that engage, to varying
degrees, in delegitimization campaigns, including anti-Israel lawfare and BDS,
as well as denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
praise on Adalah – a recipient of $500,000 of NIF funding in 2010 and a leader
in international anti-Israel campaigns, including at the UN.
PR efforts calling for EU sanctions against Israel; supports legal cases against
Israeli officials (lawfare); and wrote and edited large portions of a
pseudo-academic study that called for another International Court of Justice
advisory opinion to declare that Israel is an “apartheid” state.
denial of the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination is
Its 2007 “Democratic Constitution” and similar documents that
call for a fundamental redefinition of Israel were recognized by NIF CEO Daniel
Sokatch as violating NIF guidelines on Jewish sovereignty rights. Yet, earlier
this month, Adalah’s Hassan Jabareen authored an op-ed entitled “Why
Palestinians can’t recognize a ‘Jewish state,’” in which he pointed to the
“Democratic Constitution” as a supposed expression of Jewish rights.
defending huge budgets for groups such as Adalah, Lurie writes that “every
organization funded by the New Israel Fund is a legal Israeli amuta (non-profit
This is both irrelevant and false.
Shatil is a
major recipient of NIF grants, but has no legal status in Israel. NIF’s 2010
grants also include private companies which are subject to different accounting
and reporting requirements. For example, $587,000 went to a private company
(The fact that NIF-Israel executive director Rachel Liel
is a shareholder in this company may represent an improper conflict of
interest.) Lurie’s sins of commission include his criticism of NGO Monitor,
which began years ago as a project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
but has been independent since 2007. Lurie mistakenly refers to this
organization as the “Jerusalem Council,” and awkwardly implies that NGO
Monitor’s analyses should be ignored due to this link. Lurie could have avoided
many mistakes with basic fact-checking: a quick visit to the NGO Monitor website
will produce a list of our donors, contrary to his claims.
With so many
errors, Rabbi Lurie’s call for repentance is appropriate, particularly for his
own organization. The first step of repentance is identifying the sin. This is
not a legalistic, mechanical exercise, but requires the individual to strip away
the habit of denial that prevents accepting that he or she has sinned – that
there is a problem.
As Rosh Hashana approaches and Lurie assumes a new
leadership role, perhaps he will stop repeating the false claims supplied by
NIF’s haphazard PR machine, recognize the problems, and open up the NIF to the
accountability, transparency and honesty that they demand from
Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor, a
Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human
rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of
nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the Middle East. Naftali Balanson
is managing editor