NIF pledges 'to strengthen democracy'

Organization responds to attacks.

The New Israel Fund will open a national campaign to “strengthen democracy in the country,” the organization, which has been increasingly criticized over the past few months, announced last week.
“The NIF will launch a national campaign to strengthen democracy and freedom of speech in Israel in the wake of attempts by extremist organizations to restrict the boundaries of public debate in Israel and attacks on civil organizations and figures in the academic world,” the funding organization said in a press release summarizing a meeting last week of the its executive committee.
NIF spokeswoman Naomi Paiss refused to elaborate on the meeting in response to questions from The Jerusalem Post and said, “We have no further comment other than the press release.”
However, the campaign announced by the NIF was clearly a response to a public campaign begun in January by Im Tirzu – The Second Zionist Revolution.
In January, Im Tirzu published a report accusing the NIF of funding 16 human rights organizations that provided information on Operation Cast Lead that was used by the UN’s Goldstone Committee in its report accusing Israel of committing war crimes during the fighting.
According to Im Tirzu, 42 percent of the allegations included in the report were based on the data collected by organizations supported by the NIF.
Im Tirzu, which describes itself as a “centrist, extra-parliamentary movement,” also launched a public campaign against the NIF, depicting in billboard-sized posters throughout Israel the organizations’ president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, with a horn in the middle of her face.
“Keren” means both “horn” and “fund” in Hebrew.
The Im Tirzu campaign led to a decision by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to approve government support for a private member’s bill sponsored by Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin that would require all NGOs receiving money from foreign political entities to register with the Political Party Registrar and declare in all public appearances that they represent an organization that receives such funding.
Naftali Balanson, NGO Monitor’s managing editor, told the Post on the eve of the NIF executive committee meeting that it “offered a chance to hash out the organization’s ‘controversial’ funding. I don’t see how they couldn’t discuss these issues.”
However, all the NIF press release said was that the board had decided on a new policy for 2011.
“The NIF has attempted to identify itself and its grantees as the sole representatives of Israeli democracy,” Balanson said. “But democracy also means voices from the Right, Left and Center, and, yes, voices that criticize the NIF for funding groups that are involved in demonization campaigns. NIF has waged a smear campaign against NGO Monitor as an organization and [its president] Prof. Gerald Steinberg as an individual, in an attempt to divert attention from the very real concerns about NIF funding practices.
This is the polar opposite of the democratic values the NIF purports to champion.”