Category Archives: New Israel Fund

It’s My Synagogue, But Count Me Out

The synagogue in Brooklyn where our dues go — Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill — co-sponsored an event last week which I did not attend.  The event was entitled “How Do We Talk About Israel:  the Rabbis’ Dilemma,” and was co-sponsored by an entity “Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn” (ILJB).

First of all: how and why is Israel a “dilemma” ?  It is not a dilemma for the majority of American Jews (if you can trust the polls), and certainly not for the many thousands who attend AIPAC meetings, attend Salute to Israel parades, and have voted, in their majority, against Finding Fault With Israel (FFWI) candidates, like Bernard Sanders and Jill Stein.  Yes, I know, there are FFWI groups like JStreet and some others, but, to go by the published figures, all these FFWI formations, taken together, are in a minority.  Perhaps a significant minority by now, but a minority nonetheless.

Now back to the “How Do We Talk” event.  The speakers, all described as rabbis, are also described in a Jewish Week ad as “5 prominent Rabbis” (sic), The ILJB website further calls them “leading members of the rabbinate.”  How does one become, after ordination, a “leading” or “prominent” rabbi ?  I never heard of these people before, and neither does an internet search reveal either leadership or prominence for any of them.  At the very best these adjectives are puffery, at the worst they are an attempt to mislead.

On the other hand, an internet search of these five shows that at least four of them are associated with Finding Fault with Israel groups.  Two are listed as part of JStreet;  one is part of the New Israel Fund;  a fourth is part of T’ruah.  None of the five, insofar as I could find, are associated with no-nonsense pro-Israel work.  Would you find any at an AIPAC conference or on a Salute to Israel parade ?  I doubt it.

Now I realize that in my “progressive” part of Brooklyn there are many Jews who are inclined in a FFWI direction, and I would welcome productive and courteous discussion with them.  But when a forum is so clearly stacked, count me out !

The One Percenters Against Israel

Hannah Arendt
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Hannah Arendt, Jewish but as famous for her love affair with the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger as for her activities as a public intellectual, attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.  She did not much like Israeli culture as she observed it in the court room.  This is what she wrote to Karl Jaspers as the time:

My first impression: On top, the judges, the best of German Jewry. Below them, the prosecuting attorneys, Galicians, but still Europeans. Everything is organized by a police force that gives me the creeps, speaks only Hebrew, and looks Arabic … And outside the doors, the oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country.

The “Galicians,” also known as the Ostjuden by the elegant sections of German Jewry, were of course not as gebildet, as “cultured” as those German Jews who could frequent the salons (and the beds) of German philosophers.  As for sephardim — well, they’re not even Europeans, let alone human beings ….

Ms. Arendt is dead and buried, but her spirit lives on.  Where ?

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The New York Times of April 18 has a full page ad by the New Israel Fund (heretofore known mainly for its support of Arab attempts to dismantle Israel).  The ad solicits funds (“tax-deductible,” i.e. partially financed by US taxpayers) to combat “EXTREMISM” (in letters 1 3/4″ in height) in Israel.  What does this “extremism” consist of ?  Suicide bombers, stone throwing by Arab youngsters, missiles from the Gaza Strip ?  As they say among certain sophisticates of the Upper West Side:  don’t be naive.  According to the ad, the great danger of “extremism” comes from the Yiddish-speaking Ostjuden in Bnei Brak and other Orthodox neighborhoods.   It seems that there is an “actual photograph” (displayed on 7.5″ of the ad’s 20″)  of a billboard that has been “defaced” by “religious extremists” in Jerusalem.

Naomi Chazan, Pres., New Israel Fund
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OK.  Let’s be naive for a moment.  The “defacement” appears to consist of a partial ripping of a poster that contains a woman’s face.   Is that the very worst example of “extremism” that one can think of ?  (In the American understanding of freedom of expression, even “defacing” the Stars and Stripes is protected — see Texas v. Johnson (1989) ). And then, why is the American taxpayer asked to tell the people of Israel what to allow and what not to allow ?  While the photograph may very well be “actual,” how do we know that it was “religious extremists” who perpetrated this heinous act ?  Finally, NIF is famous for demanding “freedom of expression.”  Why demand such freedom for the enemies of Israel, but not for Orthodox Jews ?

Toward the bottom of the ad, we are told that “your tax-deductible gift will be matched up to $500,000 … thanks to the generosity of our donor Murray Koppelman.”

As the current expression goes, Mr. Koppelman is part of the one percent.  No doubt he has a right to   express himself, but does he have the right to keep others from expressing themselves, especially others who live in another country ?

As it happens, Mr. Koppelman (in this NIF video) is disarmingly frank about what bothers him about Israel.  When he visits religious neighborhoods there, he says, he is distressed to see religious women walk behind their husbands.  He doesn’t like it.   So what does he do ?  Well, like any self-respecting billionaire,  he wants to put an end to the practices that he doesn’t like.

Now, just a bit more about those one percenters who want to remake the world in their own image.  Don’t say that the New Israel Fund does nothing but cause mischief in Israel.  No, on the contrary:  it does something right here in the US.  According to the two-year old but last available report (Form 990) that it has submitted to the IRS, the NIF helps to create at least one more American one percenter.  In 2008, NIF payed its top official, Mr. Daniel Sokatch, the sum of $342,717, which puts Mr. Sokatch safely in the top one percent of individual income earners in the US.  But not to worry.  Even after paying Mr. Sokatch, NIF still has lots of money to pay for full-page ads in the NYT, where the rates range, depending on how much the Times likes you, from $100,000 to $200,000 a shot.

It may well be that some NIF money goes to worthwhile causes in Israel.  But in view of the documented millions that NIF spends on  Israel-hostile and frivolous pursuits, what do the NIF fat cats say to the truly disadvantaged ?   “Get lost,” or some variant thereof, is what in fact they say to the social, educational, financial, and security needs of the Jewish people.

Of What Use is the New Israel Fund ?

Ms. Naomi Chazan

President, New Israel Fund

It is almost thirty years ago that the French scholar Georges Lavau published his memorable study A quoi sert le parti communiste français ?, “Of What Use is the French Communist Party ?”, with the question mark on its cover five times as large as the rest of the title. (Click here for a French-language review). No, Lavau found, the CP does not in any way live up to its declared aims of proletarian revolution, human brotherhood, or social betterment. But nevertheless, he says, the Party has its functions — mainly one of providing a venting place for the dissatisfied in the larger society; in this way, according to Lavau, the CP promotes social stability.

The idea of piercing behind professed aims to examine the reality of a social institution did not originate with Lavau. Nor did it originate with the American sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910-2003, born Meyer Schkolnick), who introduced the terminology of “manifest” versus “latent” functions. But Merton’s terminology is useful as a handle. I am using it here to ask: what is manifest, and what is latent in the New Israel Fund ?

The manifest content of NIF is its self description, for instance this passage from its website:

The New Israel Fund (NIF) is the leading organization committed to democratic change within Israel. Since 1979, NIF has fought for social justice and equality for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender.

Widely credited with building Israel’s progressive civil society from scratch, we have provided more than $200 million to more than 800 cutting-edge organizations since our inception. What’s more, through our action arm, SHATIL, we mentor, train and lead Israeli civil society in an ongoing struggle to empower the underprivileged.

Democratic social change. Social justice. Equality. Sound familiar ? And ah yes, “progressive civil society” — we’ve looked at that one in the previous posting. As for the “cutting-edge” organizations that NIF has financed, these are better known for their accusations of Israeli “war crimes” and, in effect, their work to demolish Israel (see my postings of 2/11/10 and 4/8/10). Are any of these eight hundred groups, over and above the demonstrated anti-Israel agitation of at least some of them, involved in any discernible efforts for “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender” ? I would not rule that out, but I am skeptical. The politics of NIF-supported groups are clear, their humanitarian impact, if any, is not clear to me.

In the meantime, there are many groups in Israel that do indeed work “to empower the underprivileged” and who do so without the political baggage of NIF. Two of these come to mind immediately: the Tel Aviv Foundation and the Jerusalem Foundation. Both are well established and have long records of work among the poor, both Arabs and Jews, work that they have done without fanfare and without public grandstanding. I would urge the reader to consult the websites of each. Moreover, the UJA-Federation of New York supports numerous groups in Israel devoted to the needy there, some of which are specifically organized for Arabs and other minorities.

About a year ago my wife Rita and I visited the Bialik – Rogozin School in Yaffo, which is supported by the Tel Aviv – Yaffo municipality. We found young children of many backgrounds studying in this very modern, well equipped Israeli institution. I was particularly struck by the many black faces from Africa — six and seven-year olds — all speaking Hebrew like sabras. They were children of African refugees, some of whom were in the country as undocumented immigrants. “This is the only place on earth where refugees from Darfur and other African countries are treated like human beings,” a woman there remarked. While I was at the school and witnessed the colorful array of faces, I kept thinking of Jimmy Carter, who had just written his strange assessment of Israel as practicing “apartheid.” I kept asking myself, is Carter just ignorant or is he malicious ?

So, well, no, we do not need the NIF to “empower the underprivileged” in Israel.

The NIF may or may not be helpful to underprivileged people in Israel, but it is well documented that it is definitely helpful to another group — the extremely privileged. According to the group’s 2008 IRS Form 990, it paid top salaries to at least two of its US-based officials: $228,331 to Larry Garber, then its CEO, and another $235,408 to Aaron Back, listed as “independent contractor.” These payments are not much when compared to incomes of bank executives or even to those of executives at certain other Jewish groups. But these NIF salaries are more than twice as high as those of full professors of major universities. It places the recipients in the upper two percent of American households, assuming that they are sole wage earners. These are 2008 figures, the last that the group has provided to the IRS. Mr. Daniel Sokatch, the current CEO of NIF, has not responded to my request for the current salary structure at his organization.

So we know that NIF money goes to support Arab campaigns against Israel; it goes to pay for upper-middle class lifestyles of its officials. What else does it buy ? Nothing that can be definitely documented, but I would not dismiss feelings of satisfaction to donors whose political proclivities coincide with those of the NIF leadership. Whatever else may be said about the NIF, it is obviously far more political than eleemosynary. For prospective donors whose motivations are charitable, NIF is a good group from which to stay away.

Read the important Im Tirtzu report on the NIF

Read the NGO Monitor report on the NIF

Read the NGO Monitor’s Ethical Guidelines for the NIF

UPDATE, May 14, 2010: NGO Monitor ad re. NIF

UPDATE, Sept. 22, 2010: NIF makes contradictory claims; continues to send about $10 million a year to anti-Israel groups

"Civil Society" — the Shell Game of the New Israel Fund

Ms. Naomi Chazan

President, New Israel Fund

I first ran across “civil society” in this context when I looked into the agitational work of a Mr. Jeff Halper, an American immigrant to Israel who devotes himself to abolishing the Jewish state. He claims to have the support of “international civil society” because people from various countries, including the American Friends Service Committee, support his cause.

Now there is a public controversy surrounding the New Israel Fund, a far less radical group than Mr. Halper’s, but one that devotes itself to similar objectives — less stridently, much less directly, and probably less deliberately. As I have shown in a previous posting, NIF has financed a number of groups that work for the dismantlement of Israel. With all that, NIF claims, repeatedly and insistently, that it represents and supports “civil society” in Israel. That, in its self-description, is its raison d’être.

That sounds grand. But what, exactly, is “civil society ? As it turns out, NIF has a number of answers, each different from the next.

First, here is Daniel Sokatch, NIF’s current executive director:

A)

At a time when the organizations that safeguard Israeli civil society are under assault by those for whom openness, equality and pluralism are anathema, the NIF family of organizations has come together like never before to push back, and to stand up for justice. (Sokatch)

And here is NIF’s form 990 submission to the IRS:

B)

NIF works with civil society organizations to accomplish social and economic justice.

And here is Adalah, one of NIF’s most strident anti-Israel beneficiaries, a group that accuses Israel of “crimes against humanity”:

C)

In 8/09, Adalah and Al-Haq held a symposium in Ramallah where research team members presented the findings of the study and discussed potential next steps with around 150 representatives of civil society, political parties, and international organizations who attended the event. (2009 Ann.Rpt.)

The many meanings of “civil society”

So we see that sometimes NIF uses the term as equivalent to democracy itself (example A) while at other times (examples B and C), the term refers to one or another of non-governmental organizations; there is a basic equivocation about this “civil society” in NIF usage.

But even when employed in the more narrow sense — i.e. non-governmental organization — there is yet a further ambiguity. If NIF and the groups it finances can be said to be “civil society,” what about all the other voluntary groups of Israel ? Dare one mention, say, settler organizations on the West Bank ? No, NIF never mentions groups it does not like as being “civil society;” it seems that only the left-wing and Arab groups that it favors qualify.

In brief, the use of the term “civil society” by NIF is a shell game. When convenient, it means no more than voluntary or non-governmental groups. At other times it means the NIF-financed groups. At still other times, the term means democracy itself. By shifting back and forth, without keeping the spectator informed where the pea is hidden, NIF can deflect any criticism of itself or of one of its beneficiaries (B and C “civil society”) as an attack on democracy itself (A “civil society”) Such deflection is usually accompanied by a characteristic ultra-left barrage of vilification: McCarthyist ! Fascist ! Reactionary !

The use of “civil society” to characterize the left-wing groups that NIF favors also emboldens NIF to suggest that somehow the society as a whole is behind its cause. Since it’s very simple to multiply friendly organizations, if necessary through overlapping memberships, one can seek to create an impression of substantial public support. But this procedure is obviously misleading. No matter how many organizations one claims as supportive, the total numbers of sympathizers can be minuscule. And that, as it happens, is the case here: all the groups trotted out by NIF, all of them together, represent but a very tiny slice of Israeli public opinion. How do I know this ? Well, Israel is a democratic country, and the voice of the people is heard in elections.

Ms. Chazan, NIF President, is a former member of the Knesset as member of the Meretz political party and Meretz, in a sense, remains the political arm of NFI. At one time Meretz commanded a respectable number of votes, but in the last (2009) election it felt constrained to run together with another small party to improve its chances. This combination, New Movement-Meretz, obtained … guess how much of the vote ? It received all of 2.95% ! So by any meaningful accounting for “civil society” in Israel, 97.05% of it will have nothing to do with Ms. Chazan and her NFI.

Read the important Im Tirtzu report on the NIF

Read the NGO Monitor report on the NIF

The Radical Chic of Ms. Naomi Chazan; or Pride Precedeth the Fall

Ms. Naomi Chazan
President, New Israel Fund

Mada al Carmel, another group funded by the NIF, authored the “Haifa Declaration.” Here are a few gems from that document: “Towards the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement initiated its colonial-settler project in Palestine. Subsequently, in concert with world imperialism … it succeeded in carrying out its project, which aimed at occupying our homeland … The Zionist movement committed massacres against our people … the State of Israel enacted racist land, immigration, and citizenship laws [a reference to the Law of Return] … Israel carried out policies of subjugation and oppression in excess of those of the apartheid regime in South Africa.Israel Harel, Haaretz correspondent

Old Leonard Bernstein had a funny thing going — a spot of radical chic — with muscled Black anti-Semitism. More recently, a Jewish American university and a Jewish American college president did it with an anti-Israel Palestinian group in Jerusalem.

But now a new radical chic scandal has exploded in the Israeli press. It seems that the New Israel Fund , an ostensible pro-Israel charitable group, has diverted substantial funds to a number of radical anti-Israel groups. The details are given in a long, detailed, sober Report issued by the Zionist organization Im Tirtzu. (The IT report includes only groupings that contributed to the notorious Goldstone Report but does not mention other anti-Israel groups supported by NIF, for instance Mada al Carmel.) In turn, Im Tirtzu is being denounced, almost comically, by the NIF and its political supporters: McCarthyism !Fascism !

[OK — I cannot resist a small aside on the idiocy of these two epithets. 1) Those who use “McCarthyism” today, generally ignorant of the historical context of 1950’s Soviet espionage and the crude backlash against it, imagine that the “victims of McCarthyism” had been totally innocent, totally loyal Americans. 2) Those who use the term “Fascism” here: what in fact do they think ? That right-wing Israelis today, like the Italian confederates of Hitler in WWII, are out to destroy democratic government ? It is true that some criticism of NIF has crossed the borders of good taste, but this hardly amounts to the capital crimes alleged by the extreme Left ]

Pride goes before ruin, arrogance before failure… (Prov. 16:18, new JPS translation)

But back to the NIF and Ms. Naomi Chazan, its current president. Some ten years ago I sat in an audience of American Jews whom she addressed in Jerusalem. Her message, as I recall it, was that Israel alone is to be blamed for the failure to achieve peace with the Arabs. She was impatient with us. At one time she explained that she is a political science professor and that therefore she can tell us a thing or two about how things really are. Nobody was much impressed with that argument, but the academics in the audience could hardly keep from laughing out loud.

Now, after much criticism of her handling of NIF funding, the consequent cancellation of her visit to Australia, and her dismissal from the Jerusalem Post, she again insists on her professorial authority: “As a politics professor, I know how to read reports,” she says to Haaretz, denouncing the IT study. But in the same interview she also makes an assertion that completely destroys her credibility, as it destroys the credibility of those of her supporters who make the same argument: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations say, but we support their right to say it.”

The reference here is to Voltaire, who is often thought to have said, but apparently never did, that
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire or not, this is a noble sentiment which is more often quoted than followed. And it is sometimes used disingenuously, as it was by Chomsky in his connection with the Holocaust-deniers. It is used disingenuously here by Ms. Chazan:

1) There is nothing in the tradition of Voltaire, nor in that of the First Amendment, that suggests an inherent right to be financed by those who disagree with you. Does the right to free speech involve a right to receive money from your opponents ? Surely a professor of political science knows the answer to that one ? The Voltaire principle, in other words, cannot explain NIF financing of kooks.

2) If the Voltaire principle demands, as Ms. Chazan tells us she believes it does, the financing of unpopular viewpoints, she would be obligated to finance right-wing viewpoints as well. But where in the list of NIF recipients are there groups of right-wing settlers on the West Bank ? Where are the followers of the late Rabbi Kahane on NIF lists ? Again, it is obvious that the Voltaire principle, pace Ms. Chazan, cannot in fact be what motivates her or her followers.

Then there is the business of NIF financing by the Ford Foundation. Millions go from the FF to NIF each year, five million in 2008 alone. Part of this money is (indirectly) US taxpayer money, which the FF receives in great quantities through a variety of tax benefits. It is obvious to me that without such US-based funding, many of these far-left groups in Israel could not exist at all.

Ms. Chazan won’t like me for this, but I do think that old Henry Ford, wherever he may be up (or down) there, might not be altogether unhappy to see where his money is going today. Long before Adolf Hitler was heard from, old Henry published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in his Dearborn Independent.

UPDATE (Feb. 17, 2010) The Organization “NGO Monitor” calls on the New Israel Fund to draw “red lines” to prevent the financing of anti-Israel propaganda. See the NGOM request HERE

UPDATE (February 24): Read the comprehensive report by David Bedein in the Jewish Week on the NIF scandal. Click HERE

READ: Professor Gerald M. Steinberg’s analysis: NIF And the Addiction to Power