Likud MK Nir Barkat speaks at a NIF anti-racism event in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: NEW ISRAEL FUND)
Last week, MK Nir Barkat condemned the New Israel Fund, claiming that the organization was supporting the violent Ethiopian-Israeli protests that broke out after 19-year-old Solomon Tekah was shot and killed in Kiryat Haim.
“Unfortunately, I heard that NIF poured its resources to fan the flames,” Barkat said in an interview with KAN Bet Radio. “I’ve spoken with Ethiopian friends and they said they received assistance from NIF.”
Barkat’s statement appeared to have a political motive. Within right-wing circles, NIF is perceived to be a left-wing, anti-Likud organization. Its support for different human rights organizations over the years has been used in the past by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a political tool against adversaries.
Last year, for example, Netanyahu accused NIF of being a “foreign” organization that receives funds from foreign governments and organizations hostile to Israel, such as those funded by George Soros. Writing on his Facebook page, the prime minister asked then-coalition chairman David Amsalem to establish a parliamentary committee to look into the organization’s activities that, he charged, endanger “the security and future of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.”
What made Barkat’s assault on NIF interesting was that, as mayor of Jerusalem – a position he held until late last year – he worked relatively closely with the fund.
NIF CEO Mickey Gitzin told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that his group works with a wide range of politicians from across the political spectrum. He said NIF was deeply entrenched in so many national and local education and social programs, that politicians from the Right and the Left eventually realized the importance of collaborating with it to better the country.
Regarding Barkat’s past cooperation with NIF, The Post discovered the following:
Barkat was one of the businessmen who helped establish Israel Ventures Network (IVN) with NIF, a venture of hi-tech operators, businessmen, and corporations in Israel and the Diaspora. IVN attempts to build educational and social-mobility opportunities for Israeli communities in the periphery.
In Tiberias, for example, the program focused on improving student performance in schools, reducing drop outs, developing new infrastructure and schools with special focuses, and generally supporting families coming from difficult socioeconomic circumstances. At the time, Barkat met frequently with NIF officials involved in the project, to help bring it to Jerusalem as well.
As mayor of Jerusalem, Barkat and members of his administration attended an event in 2009, co-sponsored by both NIF and the Soccer Association, to combat racism and violence in sports. When Eliezer Yaari stepped down as the fund’s CEO later that year, Barkat came to his retirement party.
Throughout Barkat’s term as mayor from 2008 to 2018, SHATIL – an organization supported by NIF – gave the municipality extensive advice and ran courses on organizational dynamics and cooperation to improve public housing.
In initially responding to the NIF controversy, Barkat did not present any concrete evidence about his allegations that the fund was behind the Ethiopian-Israeli protests. He said that his claims were based on what some Ethiopian-Israelis had told him.
Furthermore, in his public statements, he has tried to make a distinction between earlier years of the organization when he supported it, and recent years when he believed the organization has moved in a negative direction. A Barkat spokesman told the Post on Wednesday that “in recent years, NIF has chosen to support organizations acting against the IDF and the State of Israel, and has lost its public legitimacy.”
However, this distinction doesn’t hold up when looking at the full scope of Barkat’s cooperation with NIF.
Besides his cooperation with SHATIL – which continued through the end of his mayoral term in 2018 and as late as March 25, 2019 – Barkat participated in a SHATIL-sponsored event in Tel Hai promoting better public health.
This event included MKs from across the political spectrum, like former Labor MK Eyal Ben-Reuven and former Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli.
Barkat’s spokesman said that the former mayor was sent by the Likud to the March event to participate in an election panel, which included members from a spectrum of parties, and that he did not make a personal choice to attend.
Furthermore, he said that Barkat was contacted by a local Tel Hai resident and did not necessarily know that NIF was involved in the event prior to arriving, or even during the event. He did not deny that Barkat attended the event or that it could have included banners in various spots mentioning the fund.
Pressed whether Barkat would cooperate with NIF in the future if it was a project that he believed in – regardless of the fund’s involvement – his spokesman told the Post on Wednesday that he would “weigh each situation based on the specific circumstances.”
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