Most stories in the news have a brief shelf-life. Even the tragedy in Haiti has faded from the world’s consciousness after dominating the media for a number of weeks. But there are other events that drag on, including those that at first glance seem insignificant. In Israel, we are experts at flogging a dead horse, belaboring a particular news item ad nauseam. Such is the lingering coverage of the radical right-wing Im Tirzu’s frontal assault on the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its director, Dr. Naomi Chazan.
Indeed, Im Tirzu is guaranteeing that the story be kept alive as they now have produced inflammatory billboards: “Exposure: Naomi ‘Goldstone’ Chazan’s NIF stands behind the Goldstone Report,” thus inciting a vicious atmosphere. Further breathing life into the issue is the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee setting up a sub-committee to examine how foreign foundations sponsor Israeli organizations. Kadima’s Otniel Schneller, former secretary-general of the Yesha Council and former deputy speaker of the Knesset, has announced that he is working to reach a broad consensus to probe the conduct of NIF and its Israeli grantees.
As the founding chairperson of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), I can categorically state that RHR might never have gotten off the ground if it were not for the funding it received from NIF at the incipient stages of the organization’s formation. I am proud of the work of RHR and grateful for NIF’s continued support.
With the dismissal of Dr. Chazan as a columnist for The Jerusalem Post
earlier this month, I am caught in a dilemma. I understand the reason for the termination of her column. It’s difficult to imagine any newspaper extending a free hand to one of its writers who, at the same time, is suing it. However, the Post
, along with Yediot Aharonot
, do need to answer for printing an advertisement with classic anti-Semitic overtones, like the one that demonized Dr. Chazan.
I have written for the Post
for more than 25 years; for the past four years, I have written a bi-weekly column in the Magazine
, switching every other week with Dr. Chazan, my ideological colleague. Some of the articles I pen are acutely critical of Israel. At no time has anything I’ve written ever been censored. Given the fact that the Post
’s international readership is so wide, what I write can certainly be used as political fodder for Israel’s detractors.
NOT ONLY do I identify with Naomi Chazan, but also with the goals of NIF. She and NIF have become the foci of Im Tirzu’s witch hunt, which has made the bogus allegation that NIF is actively involved in undermining the Jewish state. Im Tirzu would have us believe that Israeli NGOs funded by NIF supplied 92% of the negative accounts of Israel in the Goldstone Report. Regarding RHR, I know for a fact that this is a libelous assertion.
Im Tirzu has not provided any credible evidence to support its outrageous assertion; but history has shown, particularly for us Jews, that the bigger the lie, repeated often and loud enough, the more it becomes believable. Sadly, the present government provides fertile ground for the organization’s accusations. Fearful of a possible revolution of Im Tirzu’s sympathetic ministers like Lieberman, Yishai, Landau and a host of other xenophobic characters in the government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has remained embarrassingly silent. As for Labor Party representatives in the coalition, they have said nothing. Once again, they have proven to be a spineless pack of hypocrites willing to violate any and all principles to maintain their cabinet seats.
The hypocrisy extends to Ronen Shoval, the force behind Im Tirzu. He questions NIF’s funding process; who gives to NIF; and which Israeli NGOs receive moneys from it. He sees no contradiction with Reverend John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) donating $100,000 to Im Tirzu. This is the same John Hagee who has frequent anti-Semitic outbursts: Hitler carried out the will of God to return the Jews to Israel in accordance with the biblical promise. . . The Holocaust took place because Jews rebelled and renounced their true God. Their disobedient behavior is the reason for anti-Semitism and the persecution Jews have suffered throughout the ages.
Apparently, this does not disturb Shoval who told Haaretz
last week: “We are not financially well off enough to say ‘no’ to money, even if the source doesn’t perfectly match our own personal views.” That logic should apply to NIF. While one may legitimately disagree with some of the organizations in Israel that NIF supports, it is well known for its aid to some of the most creative, progressive and socially-minded NGOs in the country; many of which have become essential watchdogs to protect Israel’s democratic values, not to mention its support of environmental projects, minority rights, immigration, religious pluralism and the economically deprived.
Im Tirtzu has succeeded in wreaking havoc, creating a snowball effect, whereby NIF and Naomi Chazan felt compelled to bring a legal suit against The Jerusalem Post
, which in turn forced the Post
to let her go. It is simply unfair that the Post
’s editor David Horovitz – who did not even see the ad before it appeared in the paper, and for whom I have great respect – should have been compromised.
Im Tirzu has placed not only the Post
, but also other Israeli and Diaspora institutions between a rock and a hard place. Using innuendo and intimidation, the organization threatens the basic tenets of democracy.
Protesting by stopping to write makes good sense. Yet, I refuse to capitulate to Im Tirzu’s ongoing bullying. As long as the Post
allows me editorial freedom, I will continue to express critical opinions on the social, political and religious dynamics in Israel when I deem it necessary. I can only hope that those within our government, as well as within the Diaspora Jewish community, will stand up to Im Tirzu’s continuing witch hunt so they do not fall victim to Pastor Martin Niemrs warning about the silence of German intellectuals during Word War II: First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist; Then they came for the trade-unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade-unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.The writer is a Reform rabbi, author, lecturer and ongoing contributor to
The Jerusalem Post Magazine.