Fight over NY’s Celebrate Israel Parade reignites debate over New Israel Fund

Coalition chair Yariv Levin writes he is "deeply moved" by those looking to ban left-wing organization.

YARIV LEVIN 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin applauded efforts by New York activists to ban several controversial organizations from marching in the city’s upcoming Celebrate Israel Parade.
In a letter Sunday to Richard Allen of the JCC Watch organization, Allen objected to the inclusion of Partners for Progressive Israel, the New Israel Fund, and B’tselem in the annual Zionist march, accusing them of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
“As coalition chairman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, I am deeply moved by the tireless supporters and marchers in the Celebrate Israel Parade and by the courageous stance of so many friends of Israel involved in the parade, calling to delegitimize those who delegitimize Israel,” Levin wrote Allen. “It is not logical or reasonable for Israel supporters to condone or overlook or indirectly cooperate with BDS groups which represent the antithesis of support for Israel.”
Responding to her organization’s detractors, a spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund stated that it is “a shame that publicity- hungry right-wing groups are spreading this lie [about boycotts], as if repeating it time after time will make it the truth.”
“The New Israel Fund will not fund organizations with global BDS programs and opposes global BDS,” she said.
“The meaning of democracy is the ability to include different views,” she continued. “It is our intention to march with pride at the annual Israel Parade and to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who, like us, are interested in showing their support for Israel. Those who are trying to exclude NIF and other organizations from the march are damaging Israeli democracy, Israel’s position in the world, and especially its standing among American Jews.”
“B’Tselem hasn’t actually signed up for the Israel Day parade,” spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told the Post, questioning why JCC Watch was protesting against her organization. “I have no idea why our name keeps getting dragged into this particular row, aside from the fact that the people behind this campaign haven’t bothered to look into the actual list of groups joining.”
JCC Watch has already held one protest outside of the UJA-Federation of New York’s offices and is planning another later this week.
The controversy has brought into sharp relief the fault lines separating American Jewish views on what constitutes the acceptable limits of Zionist discourse.
Partners for Progressive Israel has repudiated general boycotts of Israel, but does believe that American Jews “should refuse to purchase any goods or services, including tourism services, made in or by the settlements.”
The New Israel Fund, a multi-million dollar social action group that funds many civil society organizations in Israel, has also repudiated boycotts, but several organizations it has funded have expressed favor for the tactic. While NIF has ceased funding the Coalition of Women for Peace, which actively promoted boycotts, and amended its funding guidelines, it continued to fund Mossawa – which called on the Norwegian Government Pension Fund “to join us in our efforts and to stop investing in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory” – at least through 2012, the last year for which it issued an annual report.
“The ‘Norwegian letter’ was signed by a few NIF grantees in 2008, and no current NIF grantee has signed onto a BDS request since – partially due to serious discussions with us regarding those actions. We continue to fund Mossawa as the leading organization working on communal issues for the Arab sector,” the NIF told the Post.
The campaign against the NIF has drawn the ire of many Jewish organizations, with the Anti-Defamation League decrying the use of the parade as an ideological “litmus test.”
The New Israel Fund told the Post that litmus tests, “by their very nature are excluding.”
“For example, NIF supports Israel as Jewish and democratic. Some groups participating in the parade might support an Israel ruled by Halacha, or an Israel that annexes the West Bank without giving Palestinian rights, both of which would make Israel undemocratic.Should they be excluded?”
A source close to the campaign told The Jerusalem Post several weeks ago that the controversy detracts from efforts to combat “real threats and those who delegitimize the very existence of the State of Israel.”
Levin’s letter, which did not identify any organizations by name, came after a government source who asked not to be identified told this newspaper that “due to the ongoing controversy that has now erupted, the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry will review its funding of the parade for future years, [although] not this year.”
Levin is a known opponent of the NIF, having previously accusing the organization of “lobbying and funding activities that are all part of a campaign to destabilize the IDF.”
Dr. Gerald Steinberg, the head of the NGO-Monitor watchdog group, said that he believes that while most of the NIF’s funding goes to appropriate causes, “there are real issues with the NIF.”
“One of them is the secrecy with which they make decisions so the organizations that they fund are not revealed for a year or two afterwards and they make massive mistakes sometimes,” he said.
Steinberg said that he sees the funding of groups like Adalah, which in 2007 signed the Haifa Declaration calling for “a change in the constitutional structure and a change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state to a democratic state established on national and civil equality between the two national groups,” as such a mistake.
“There are elements of truth in that letter and NIF does need to have some serious internal discussions, as well as with the broader Jewish community about how it decides its funding,” Steinberg said.
In response to Steinberg, the New Israel fund replied that it does not “fund organizations actively working to change the nature of the State of Israel” and that since the Haifa Declaration was dined in 2006, “Adalah continues its primary mission of litigation on behalf of the Arab minority.”
At the end of the day, Steinberg said, “these are complicated issues and they are being unfortunately to some degree distorted and oversimplified for ideological purposes by everybody on all sides.”