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The NIF controversy – a chance for closure

February 21, 2010 – 10:07 pm41 Comments

It’s no secret that there has been something of a community controversy concerning the recent cancellation of Israeli academic and former Knesset Member, Naomi Chazan’s, visit.

For those that have been trekking in the Himalayas, here’s a quick and sloppy account of the events so far:

  1. Chazan was set to come to Australia as a guest of the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ), and also to launch the UIA Progressive Trust Appeal.
  2. Meanwhile, back in Medinat Yisrael, Im Tirtzu, an Israeli student group, spearheaded a campaign against Chazan and the New Israel Fund (NIF), of which Chazan is the chairperson.
  3. As result of this campaign, Chazan’s trip to Australia was cancelled.

The Australian controversy essentially boils down to the following:  The UPJ has claimed that Chazan herself cancelled the trip in order to attend to the Israeli controversy surrounding the NIF; alternatively, the UPJ has also claimed that it was mutual decision, based on not letting the criticism of Chazan in Israel detract from the planned fundraising effort.

However, Chazan has given a very different impression of how things went down, suggesting that the decision to cancel her visit was made entirely by the UPJ.

The Zionist Council of Victoria had also planned to co-sponsor a public lecture involving Chazan, but then withdrew that sponsorship.  They have been more forthright in explaining their reasoning, stating that they withdrew their co-sponsorship of Chazan’s lecture because they consider the activities of the NIF inimical to their interests.

There sure is a lot of ‘he said, she said’ about this whole affair, which is why we are delighted to be able to offer our Melbourne readers a chance to find out for themselves what the NIF is all about, and also hear from the NIF about the recent controversy.  Even though Chazan’s visit has been cancelled, Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the NIF is currently in Australia for family reasons.  While in Melbourne, Sokatch will give a talk at the Herzl club, and we have been informed that there will be ample time for supporters and detractors alike to ask tough questions.

The event is being hosted by Shira Melbourne, who are at pains to point out that they do not endorse any political platform and are hosting the event in the interests of promoting critical discussion.

When: Wednesday 24 February, 8 pm
Where: Shira Melbourne (at the Theodore Herzl Club), 222 Balaclava Rd, Caulfield
Entry: $5

The flyer can be viewed here.

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41 Comments »

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Is it really a matter of closure, or in fact, a matter of the politics of ‘leadership’ in the Jewish community, which for want of a better term is a very, very broad church?
    There are profound issues facing the future of Israel and the relationship of the Diaspora to Israel, but instead of taking a deep breath and dealing with very hard issues, there’s all too often, the familiar circling the wagons mentality, instead of taking very seriously the increasing conflict between democracy and authoritarianism and division in Israel.

  • Steve Brook says:

    I have just taken a deep breath. It would make things much easier if Hamas, one of Israel’s putative talking partners, did not regard the “Protocols of Zion” as a credible historical document. To the authoritarians and enemies of democracy in Israel, this is pure oxygen. Those crazed mamzerim on both sides deserve each other.

  • Reality Check says:

    Sorry to interupt, but this Im Tirtzu mob, ain’t just some student group. Google them and see who they really are.

  • ariel says:

    As a result of the Im Tirzu report on NIF funding and heavy lobbying by NGO Monitor, the Israeli Cabinet has passed a bill making it compulsory for all NGOs and student organisations which receive funding from outside Israel to register with the same commission which administers Israel’s National Political Party registry.
    All foreign donations, donors’ details and details of the particular NGO’s senior membership must be registered. Failure to do so will be a crime. The bill is headed to committee and then the Knesset.
     

  • SJ says:

    Good to see Shira Hadasha hosting such an event. The campaign against the NIF by Im Tirtzu is truly disgraceful. From what I have read in the Israel press, the Im Tirtzu “report” on NIF was a set of distortions and inaccuracies, originally sensationalised in an article in the Maariv newspaper and then gullibly repeated by a number of MKs in the knesset.
    The reason the NIF is attaked is obvious: they support progressive organisations in Israel, some of which are critical of Israel’s policies in the territories (Btselem, Breakng the Silence etc). Groups like Im Tirtzu and the draft legislation being considered by the Knesset are attempts to stifle funding of such groups, on the pretexts that they are “anti-Israel”. Note that such similar sentiments are not expressed in respect of pro-settler extra-parliamentary groups which receive extensive funding from the diapora.
     
     

  • ariel says:

    SJ, NIF receives direct funding from foreign governments not just individuals. It is this funding which will have to be reported.
    Why doesn’t the EU fund all NGOs in Israel equally, right and left?

  • SJ says:

    Ariel, I don’t believe NIF would receive funding from foreign governments, rather its the organisations that NIF fund which may receive foreign government funds. I understand that these organisations in any event already report to the government and their funding is quite known.

    You would hardly expect foreign governments to fund right wing pro-settler groups which are considered by the international community to be illegal under international law, and for years has been a major impediment to a 2 state solution. Its obviously organisations that fund peace and civil society initiatives that should be funded. 

  • SJ says:

    Ariel, I don’t believe NIF would receive funding from foreign governments, rather its the organisations that NIF fund which may receive foreign government funds. I understand that these organisations in any event already report to the government and their funding is quite known.

    You would hardly expect foreign governments to fund right wing pro-settler groups when settlements are considered by the international community to be illegal under international law, and for years has been a major impediment to a 2 state solution. Its obviously organisations that fund peace and civil society initiatives that will be funded. 

  • ariel says:

    SJ,
    The point is that it is ridiculous for foreign governments to fund any NGOs outside their own countries. It’s blatant undermining of a democratically elected government. The people of Israel have the chance to change policy by voting for a new government and nobody outside has the right to undermine that choice.
    Why doesn’t the EU fund anti-governement NGOs in Australia? or Mexico? Why only anti-government NGO’s in Israel?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Ariel,
     
    I don’t know if to laugh or cry at your responses. I suggest you look at what the EU funds.  http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/what/human-rights/index_en.htm
    By your logic, the Marshall Plan after WW2 should not have taken place.
    You also confuse ‘anti-government’ with traitorous activity. In many cases of course, work with in Israel, as in other countries is inherently going to come up against governments because it is human-rights based.
    You also appear to have little idea of what NGOs do.
    I suspect that in fact, most EU-related funding in Australia is concerned with education, research, and business support. For example, http://www.feast.org/fp7/.

  • frosh says:

    Firstly, let me say that I do not agree with the absolutist position “that it is ridiculous for foreign governments to fund any NGOs outside their own countries.” Not all NGOs are political, and may be, for example, primarily devoted to providing optometry services to the third world.

    Nevertheless, I feel that concerns about EU funding of NGOs should not be dismissed so flippantly. I cannot see a valid reason for the EU to fund NGOs that are primarily political and operate in a state that is fully democratic. However, the line between ‘humanitarian’ and ‘political’ can become rather blurred; and while many countries have, for example, a system of determining legitimate charities for the purpose of tax deductions etc, if an equivalent process were to be implemented in relation to EU funding of NGOs, it is highly likely that this process would become politically corrupted.

    All food for thought for those who attend Wednesday evening’s event.

  • ariel says:

    frosh and Larry,
    For the purpose of the arguments in this page, I use the term NGO to describe political NGOs. You’ll notice NGO Monitor and Im Tirzu do not criticise the NGOs which do honourable work in health, agriculture and education. Just the ones which want to dismantle Israel, but not Britain or the US.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Martin Indyk, the Australian-born US Ambassador who in on the NIF board, has just issued an important statement to all the misinformation that has been spread about the organisation. Full details are at http://ajds.org.au/node/144.
    Snippets include:
     
    “As a board member, I know that NIF maintains a thorough process for
    grant-making including clear criteria, ongoing evaluation and review.
    NIF demands accountability from its grantees and upholds complete
    transparency in its sources and uses of funds….”

    “NIF does not support or fund divestment, boycott or sanction
    activities against the State of Israel. NIF opposes extremism,
    intolerance and ultra-nationalism….”

    “That does not mean NIF agrees with everything these groups do or say.
    Inevitably, some of them, especially in the Arab sector, will take
    positions that, as an individual, I strongly oppose….But I will at the
    same time strongly defend their right to speak out as long as it is in
    responsible ways.”

    “…The assertion that ‘ without NIF there would be no Goldstone
    Report,’ is based on bogus statistics. In fact, Goldstone based only 14%
    of his report – not 92% as claimed – on reports of Israeli human rights
    organizations. Another 19% was based on other Israeli sources including
    statements made by Israel’s own military and political leaders.”

    For the full text of the statement: The Truth About the New Israel Fund
    http://www.ajds.org.au/node/144

  • Reality Check says:

    Ariel, the only NGOs Im Tirzu would agree to would be right wing nationalistic ones, so please. But what is happening in Israel at the moment is very worrying. Their foreign minister is a complete throw back. Instead of the Jewish state, by the way he portays Israel to the world, it will become the Ghetto state.

    Have a look at an Israeli government map of Israel. No West Bank, no recognision of any possible future Palestinian state, no green line or even the security fence,  just Judea and Samaria. This is an exercise in brain washing . Yet Israel will not negotiate with Palestinians who don’t recognize Israel.

    With the current map of Israel as produced by the Israeli government, there are over 1.5 million people within its borders who don’t get to vote. This gives those who argue that Israel is not a democracy a strong argument.

  • frosh says:

    Reality Check,

    Your last comment is lacking in eponymity.

    While I am not particularly a fan of the current Israeli Foreign Minister, if I recall correctly, “brain washing” is a term that came to popularity during the Korean War, and described some of the activities the North Koreans did to American POWs. I fail to see any parallel with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, or any other arm of the Israeli goverment.

    Secondly, I have taken a look at the current Israeli Foreign Ministry website, and they have a whole section on maps
    Their maps present a far more complex picture than you give them credit for. For example, you wrote that they do not show the security fence on their maps, but in fact they have a map specifically devoted to this.

    Let’s bring back some sanity and reality to the discussion.

  • Reality Check says:

    frosh, OK you may be right about POWs being brain washed by the North Koreans, so than lets call it propaganda instead of brain washing, although I reckon brain washing has come to pretty much mean propaganda.

    Now the map of Israel I got was, I simply googled Israel map and it came up with government map and there it was – what I described in the above.

    Sure if you want to look up where the security fence goes on any Israeli government web site, you can find it, but what I am talking about is easily accessable information that you could google in an instant.

  • Reality Check says:

    fosh, I actually googled Maps of Israel and I got the Ministry of Tourism map.

  • frosh says:

    For the record, I googled: Israeli government map

    It (the Israeli Foreign Ministry wesbite) was the first link that came up call that easily accessible.

    On the other hand, I did some considerable searching on their site for the map you referred to, but I could not find it.

  • frosh says:

    Ministry of Tourism?  Well, that explains it. 

     

    If we were to judge any country by their ministry of tourism…For example, we could determine that the Australian Government’s official position is that all women in the land look like swimsuit models, and all indigenous people live in a state of continuous bliss, with no poverty or health problem to speak of.  The Indian Government’s official position is there is no litter in India etc.

     

    Speaking of maps, now here is a story about a government taking the names on maps way too seriously – my favourite line from the story is this:

     

    And if the offence was (sic) repeated, foreign airliners would be grounded and refused permission to leave Iran.

  • Reality Check says:

    frosh, no need to get thingy, I am just letting you know how I found that map. It had no pictures of camels, Israeli kibbutz workers, falafel stands or any other things one associates with Israel, just a map showing the cities, towns, roads and  the different areas , OK

    The reality is that if one gets on to the Ministry of Tourism map that is what they will find .

  • ariel says:

    Reality,
    try googling a map of Palestine as envisioned by the PA. you’ll find no mention of israel, just a map of all the land between the river and the sea
    this is not only the official PA map, but what is taught in their schools.
    In israeli schools, they are taught about the borders and cease fire lines as they have evolved

  • Reality Check says:

    ariel, you are not telling me anything new. But the reality is that there is an Israel and no Palestinian state, mainly because the Palestinians have not given up their dream of driving the Jews into the sea.  So far that is a dream and not a reality.  But I think that if you make a Palestinian state a reality, they will be more likely to give up their dream.
    To be sure, many Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, and depending on what school you go to in Israel, let me suggest  that there are many, there is also no place for a Palestinian state. Of course  Israeli kids, irrespective of what school they attend, get taught where the borders were and so on, but for very different reasons.
    In the meantime though, the population of Palestinians in the West Bank grows and grows and soon there will be more Arabs than Jews under Israel’s control, but the Arabs don’t get to vote and then what will become of Israel’s democracy?  That is why I worry about Israel

  • ariel says:

    with the signing of oslo – whether one agrees with it or not – saw the transfer of control of most palestinians’ daily lives to the PA.
    this is especially so in gaza today and all of areas A and B in the west bank.
     
    At the end of the day, the NIF should not be funding groups which want to destroy Israel even peacefully. Martin Indyk’s willingness to support groups that he doesn’t agree with is fine, but not to the extent that they want to drive Israel into the sea.

  • SJ says:

    Ariel: please substantiate: ‘ the NIF should not be funding groups which want to destroy Israel even peacefully’. What groups are you talking about?

    Are groups that report human rights abuses in the territories ‘destroying Israel’? What paranoid nonsense.

  • ariel says:

    i don’t want this to turn into a debate about human rights because we’d spend forever trying to define those rights.
    for example, israelis’ right not to be blown up by far trumps a palestinians’ right not to be delayed at a roadblock for a day

  • Steve Brook says:

    Ariel…I’d say that the violent death rate in the thousands for Palestinians easily beats that of the Israelis, only in the hundreds. We should be campaigning for an end to these grisly mathematics altogether.

  • ariel says:

    Steve, I agree.
    All that’s neccessary is for Hamas to lay down its weapons.

  • Reality Check says:

    ariel, so it’s that simple.

  • ariel says:

    that and to change their textbooks so they don’t say that jews are decended from pigs.

    also so that mathematcs text books don’t ask questions like: “if you can kill 13 Jews with 2 sticks of dynamite, how many can you kill with 3?”

  • Chaim says:

    Thank you Ariel for bringing some sense of reality and practicality to this debate rather than  self deception..

  • Reality Check says:

    ariel and Chaim, you guys just don’t get it. You don’t make peace with your friends, they are already your friends. The reality is that you make peace with your enemies. You are not, I repeat, you are not saying anything new. They hate us and we hate them. We control them and so they resort to all sorts of means to get at us, including name calling, and so on.

    The trick is how do we make peace, not how, for all sorts of reasons, do we continue to fight.

  • ariel says:

    RC, here’s your misconception: “we” don’t hate them; but they hate us.
    for us it’s about survival; for them its about destroying us.
    i don’t see where i said i want to keep fighting: all i said was peace will come when they stop shooting and start talking genuinely with a peaceful goal in mind, not with slogans of “apartheid”, “occupation”, “zionist entity”.

  • Reality Check says:

    ariel, you don’t hate them, yeah right. Get a reality check.

  • Chaim says:

    RC: We have enough of you already.
     
    I do not hate Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Persians etc
     
    I work and are friends with plenty and they are always apologizing for the actions of Hamas and co.
     
    Yet I know that solution will be when they put down their weapons and want peace or the violent thugs or terrorists are annihilated.

    There are plenty of reformed terrorists Tass Saada, Kamal Saleem etc so they really do not have to die. It is their choice.
     

  • Reality Check says:

    I am glad to hear it Chaim, your friendship with Muslims, Palestinians, Arabs and Persians, not Iranians,  that’s really great. Now I want you to go to Israel and the west bank, explain to them the settlements and the security fence and give them your idea of a two state solution.

    Let me know how you go, oh you’ve had enough of me:  Already, already.

  • frosh says:

    Reality Check,

    Most Persians I have known prefer to be called Persians, and not Iranians.

    What were you implying?

    Your level of antagonism is unhelpful.

  • Chaim says:

    I agree Frosh. That is why I wrote it.  ALL of my non Jewish Muslim friends  from Iran (only about 5) call themselves Persians which is why I wrote it – to give them respect.
     
    I do not believe in a two state solution unless you consider the majority of Palestine which is Jordan. The security fence is only an  inadequate defense system.
     
    I am not going to argue further on this topic as I have seen people like you are so stuck in their absurd beliefs and sense of FALSE reality – it is a waste of my time.
     
    Have a good Shabbos.
     

  • Reality Check says:

    Chaim, just two more questions and I’ll leave it alone, OK.  You not believing in a two state solution: Does not mean that you agree with Loewenstein and his friends; namely, the end of Israel as a Jewish state, or does Israel continue to rule over the 2 million or so Palestinians who can’t vote in Israeli elections? Or does Israel transport those Palestinians from the west bank over the Jordon River, or give the west bank to Jordon? I mean, how would you implement a one state solution? Sorry, that’s three questions.
     
    frosh, what I was implying, Chaim answered for me. It would be nice if we could change reality and Iran was Persia again, but we can’t.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Dear Reality Check,

    I’ve said this before. Any goal other than two states for two peoples is just pie in the sky. A single multi-ethnic state goal fails to take into account the ACTUAL mindset of Israeli Jews and Arabs. In general, people on neither side would agree to lose their identity. A move towards a single state might have more traction at some time in the distant future when the two populations are more at ease with each other, but not yet. There are too many bitter feelings about past and continuing dispossession. The Jews remember their history, and so do the Palestinian Arabs.

  • Chaim says:

    FYI
     
    http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/israeli_apartheid_week_ngo_involvement
     
     

    Israeli Apartheid Week: NGO Connections and their EU/NIF Funders
    Pro-Palestinian activists have organized events for “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW — March 1-14) on college campuses and in major cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Since 2005, IAW has been a powerful forum for exploiting “apartheid” allegations to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and to advance the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS is the core of the “Durban strategy,” formulated at the NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 Durban Conference.

    NGO Monitor’s research reveals that many of the speakers listed for the 2010 events are officials of NGOs funded by European governments, including the European Commission and the New Israel Fund.

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