NIF Australia Rolls out its Zionist Credentials
In the coming months, a branch of the New Israel Fund (NIF) will be launched in Australia. Despite its name, the NIF, which is based in the US, is more than 30 years old. Its name is a play on the similarly named, JNF, which was established in 1901 in order to support the establishment of Israel. Unlike the older fund, the raison d’etre of the NIF is based on the fact that Israel already existed when the fund was founded. Indeed, it was founded in 1979, soon after Israel signed the Camp David peace accord with Egypt, a time when existential concerns were at an all-time low in Israel. It is no mistake that a fund such as the NIF, which aims to strengthen the social fabric of the state, was founded at that time.
The NIF is an umbrella fund that provides grants to seed social initiatives in Israel. Over the three decades in which it has been running, it has supported numerous initiatives for immigrant groups (Jewish and non-Jewish), Arab Israelis, women, GLBT people and other minorities as well as initiatives that promote religious tolerance, civil rights, social welfare, and the environment. In other words, the NIF supports a broad range of social initiatives that are largely uncontroversial.
Nonetheless, in the last decade, as existential concerns in Israel have resurfaced, there has been some criticism of the NIF in Israel, the US, and more recently, Australia. The vast majority of criticisms of the NIF that were circulated in Australia recently through the AJN and email campaigns were based on misunderstandings of what the NIF does and stands for. The NIF is a Zionist organization, which aims to fulfil the tenet of the Israeli Declaration of Independence that refers to equality of social and political rights for all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.
It is not clear whether those in Australia that want to malign the NIF will reiterate their criticisms as NIF is launched down-under. Yesterday, a press release from NIF Australia announced that Robin Margo, a former Rhodes Scholar and the immediate past president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, has been named as their inaugural chair. In other words, Margo’s “Jewish establishment” credentials are beyond reproach. It will be interesting to see how the right-wing members of the Jewish community organizations and media respond to the NIF under Margo’s leadership.
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