Melbourne Jews cancel Chazan visit after NIF blasted

NIF chairwoman disinvited after Im Tirtzu charges NGO with responsibility for Goldstone allegations.

In light of allegations contained in a report by the Zionist student organization Im Tirtzu, which accused the New Israel Fund of direct responsibility for the UN’s Goldstone Report on the IDF’s Gaza offensive last winter, The Jerusalem Post has learned that an invitation for NIF chairwoman Prof. Naomi Chazan to speak at a synagogue and Jewish community center in Melbourne, Australia, this month has been canceled.
According to a former member of the Melbourne Jewish community now living in Israel, Chazan had been invited to speak as part of a United Israel Appeal fund-raiser at Temple Beth Israel and the Beth Weizmann Community Center in Melbourne next weekend, but the allegations raised by the Im Tirtzu report had “sparked an enormous backlash” among community members there and the invitation had been rescinded.
Among the claims contained in the report, Im Tirtzu has alleged that 16 Israeli NGOs that received more than $7 million from the New Israel Fund in 2008-2009 provided 92 percent of the Goldstone document’s allegations criticizing the IDF’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead.
While the NIF and its supporters have criticized Im Tirtzu’s report as “slanderous” and “an attack on freedom of speech in Israel,” it appeared on Tuesday that the uproar the report has generated in Israel had not yet subsided, and might in fact be spreading abroad.
“People were shocked when they learned about [the report],” the Melbourne Jewish community member, who asked to remain unnamed, told the Post. “From what I understand, there was a huge public upheaval with regards to Chazan’s visit after the report was made public.”
The invitation to bring Chazan to Melbourne had been extended by the Union of Progressive Judaism – the Australian equivalent of the Reform Movement – which is one of 51 organizations that belong to the Zionist Council of Victoria.
According to ZCV President Dr. Danny Lamm, news of the report, and the Hebrew copy of it found on Im Tirtzu’s Web site, had generated angry responses throughout the Melbourne Jewish community and the decision was made to withdraw Chazan’s invite.
“The activities of the NIF are anathema to Zionist groups such as ours, and frankly, we’re just not interested in having anything to with it,” Dr. Lamm told the Post by telephone from Melbourne on Tuesday.
“It’s not new to me, or many of us, that the NIF has supported groups that have damaged Israel and will continue to do damage to Israel, but others were surprised by this,” he added.
Lamm made it clear that the Zionist Council of Victoria represented all branches of Jewish political and religious affiliation, “from Likud to Meretz” and that they would “never bar anybody from the left just as they wouldn’t bar anyone from the right.
“But the sort of stuff the NIF supports is so far removed from thecommunity here,” Lamm added, saying “it was decided that Chazan’spublic appearances be canceled.”
The NIF however, responded with disappointment to the decision on Tuesday, and CEO Daniel Sokatch told the Postthat it was a reaction to “baseless allegations” and “the worst kind ofvicious hate speech... It’s very sad given the warm relationship wehave with the [Union of Reform Judaism] in America,” Sokatch said ofthe decision.
Moreover, Chazan also expressed her disappointment with the decision as well, telling the Post,“I’m very disappointed that the [Union of Progressive Judaism] hasdecided to bow to extreme and unfounded right-wing accusations... Theyare capitulating to ideas that are antithetical to the essential worldview of their movements.”