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The Article that the Jewish News Refuses to Print

March 5, 2010 – 2:11 pm20 Comments

Image source: israel.foreignpolicyblogs.com

The following article by Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel was written as a reponse to Gerald Steinberg’s op-ed on the New Israel Fund in the AJN. The AJN declined to publish it; it was first published by the AJDS, and we re-publish with their permission.We leave you to judge why the AJN published Steinberg’s original essay but not Indyk’s reply.

The Truth About the New Israel Fund
When I served as U.S. Ambassador in Israel in the 1990s, and as an American Jew committed to Israel’s survival and well-being, I became deeply concerned about the failure to adequately address the problems of inequality in Israel. I could see that Israeli governments were so preoccupied with war and peace decisions that they had little time to attend to the needs of Israel’s Arab and Bedouin minorities. Although growing into a robust Jewish state, Israel was falling short of Ben-Gurion’s standard that Israel should also be a state for all its citizens with equal rights for all, as called for in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I feared the effect on the basic health of Israel’s democracy.

That’s why, when I left my post there and re-entered private life, I joined the board of the New Israel Fund (NIF). I had witnessed first-hand how NIF worked effectively to strengthen Israel’s civil society by training and funding those who lacked the ability to advocate on their own behalf. From the first laws to defend children’s rights to equity in land sales, from Israel’s first rape crisis centers to its first comprehensive law protecting the disabled, from the passage of Clean Air laws to Freedom of Information laws, NIF plays a unique role as the driving force behind positive social change in Israel and the defense of the human rights for all its citizens. And it does so not just for Israeli Arabs but for every disadvantaged sector of Israeli society, from orthodox women trapped by the Agunah, to Ethiopian immigrants struggling against discrimination, to Bedouin villages seeking government funding for basic infrastructure.

When Israel’s supporters rightly declare that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, NIF’s achievements are proudly cited as proof of that claim.

That is why I am so troubled by the attacks in Australia against NIF and the decision by the UPJ and the Zionist Council of Victoria to disinvite NIF’s president, Naomi Chazan from speaking to them. The apparent consequence is that the only voice in this “rip your arm off” discourse about NIF that Australian Jews now hear is that of NIF’s right-wing critics. How ironic that the organization that champions freedom of speech in Israel is denied the ability to defend itself through free speech in the Australian Jewish community!

Instead, Australian Jews are treated to the paranoid analysis of Gerald Steinberg and other self-appointed guardians of Israel’s virtue. I knew and respected Gerald when he was an academic for his work on arms control issues. Pity that he didn’t stick to that profession – he would have made a much greater contribution to understanding the real threat to Israel from Iran, rather than diverting attention of Australian Jews to the imaginary threat from civil and human rights organizations in Israel.

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. That’s why NIF welcomes the proposed Knesset investigation into foreign sources of funding for Israeli NGOs, as long as all groups are investigated, across the spectrum, including for example, Mr. Steinberg’s NGO Monitor, and Im Tirzu, the shadowy right-wing front organization that has launched a vicious campaign against NIF and Naomi Chazan.

NIF does not support or fund divestment, boycott or sanction activities against the State of Israel. NIF opposes extremism, intolerance and ultra-nationalism in all its manifestations, both within Israel and among the nations and organizations that relate to Israel. NIF proudly supports Israel’s internationally- respected human rights groups which uphold the very best of Jewish and democratic traditions.

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, since they cannot be expected to buy into every aspect of the Zionist narrative. But I will at the same time strongly defend their right to speak out as long as it is in responsible ways.

NIF-funded human rights groups carefully monitored Operation Cast Lead. The IDF itself used their reports in evaluating its own conduct and has sought active collaboration from NIF grantees such as B’tselem in helping to formulate the response that was recently submitted to the UN Secretary General. 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 organization. Another 19% was based on other Israeli sources including statements made by Israel’s own military and political leaders.

These human rights groups were the first to call for an independent Israeli investigation, something which many now advocate in Israel, including the outgoing Attorney General Meni Mazuz, and Deputy Prime Minister and former Justice Minister, Dan Meridor. Such investigations have taken place after every major Israeli military operation. Far from weakening Israel by supplying ammunition to its critics, these investigations demonstrate the health of Israel’s democratic institutions, particularly in their ability to undertake and learn from self- criticism.

The New Israel Fund has vital work to do, promoting a more just, socially cohesive, and democratic Jewish state. I hope that Australian Jews, who have a proud tradition of open- mindedness and generous support of human and civil rights will see, as I do, that this work strengthens Israel much more than it strengthens Israel’s critics.

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