Isi Liebler has been a dedicated Zionist for his entire career. I know that he loves Israel and is dedicated to its future. So am I.
Which is why, next June, after a career that has included stints running the national United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and a major federation, I will become the next chair of the New Israel Fund.
I am taking this on as the capstone of my career because I believe that the New Israel Fund is the most important organization helping Israel realize its founding principles.
Thus I must address recent attacks on the New Israel Fund, including that of Mr.
Liebler’s (“The Two Faces of the New Israel Fund,” September 15.) First, it’s important to understand that Mr.
Liebler’s viewpoints are embedded in a right wing ideology, one which I’m sure he thinks necessary to ensure Israel’s survival.
He should have, however, in praising NGO Monitor, acknowledged that he
is on the board of International Overseers and chairs the
Israel-Diaspora Committee of the Jerusalem Council on Public Affairs,
the body that founded NGO Monitor. Perhaps relying overmuch on that
organization, which has long justified its existence by targeting the
New Israel Fund, many of Mr. Liebler’s facts are wrong.
Every organization funded by the New Israel Fund is a legal Israeli
amuta (non-profit organization). We are on the record, in our funding
guidelines, in refusing to fund any organization that “works to deny the
right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within
Israel, or to deny the rights of Palestinian or other non-Jewish
citizens to full equality within a democratic Israel.” And, as has been
repeatedly reported, we no longer fund the Coalition of Women for Peace
or Mada al Carmel, and all organizations funded by or through NIF must
meet our funding guidelines.
Adalah is the most successful Arab-Israeli organization securing the
rights of the Arab minority, which probably is the real reason it is
targeted so frequently. As co-chairman for the last several years of the
Interagency Task Force on Israeli-Arab issues, a coalition of many
mainstream organizations working on discrimination against the Arab
minority, I share Adalah’s concern. Their latest victory, after a
lawsuit in the High Court, was the acceptance by the Israel Land
Authority of a request by an Arab family to live in the community town
of Rakefet in the Western Galilee. How could Mr. Liebler object to the
granting of the equal rights promised by Israel’s Declaration of
Independence? Further, fulminating against foreign funding of the human
rights community, and outlawing it, is the hallmark of authoritarian
regimes in Russia, China, Sudan and other nations Israel should have no
wish to emulate. The legislation Mr. Liebler and his associates at NGO
Monitor champion makes no mention of the millions of foreign dollars
flowing to extremist settler groups, one of which actually went to court
to protect its donor list from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, NGO
Monitor’s complete list of donors is also unavailable to the public.
The New Israel Fund’s audited financial information is available every
year for the previous calendar year, as is standard practice, and our
complete list of donors is in our Annual Report on our website. Very few
Israeli organizations meet NIF’s standard of transparency.
And finally, as anyone who has ever actually participated in a
grant-making organization knows, our grants process meets the most
rigorous international standards of checks and balances. The personal
beliefs of the grants director, currently or previously, have no impact
on grant decisions, which are overseen by executive staff, board
subcommittees and the board of directors itself. The only objectives,
criteria and guidelines determining NIF grants are those of the NIF
The latest wave of attacks on the NIF comes at a bad time. Right now
most Israelis are feeling particularly besieged. The breakdown in
relations with Turkey and Egypt and the looming UN vote are real reasons
This, of all times, is not when Israelis and we who love Israel should engage in fratricidal games of “gotcha.”
As the High Holidays arrive, it is the time for cheshbon nefesh,
searching our souls in order to clarify who we are and what we hope to
be. With the understanding that we will respectfully disagree on serious
issues about the direction of the Israeli government’s policy and
Israeli society, we must unite in support of a free, just and
egalitarian Israel, the Jewish homeland we all support, at peace with
itself and with its neighbors.
Rabbi Brian Lurie is the former executive vice president of the United
Jewish Appeal, the executive director of the Bay Area Federation and
cochair of the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab issues. He is the
chair-elect of the New Israel Fund.