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NIF Australia Rolls out its Zionist Credentials

May 10, 2011 – 8:58 pm28 Comments

By Rachel Sacks-Davis

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.

For related articles on Galus Australis see:

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  • Ron says:

    The NIF may consider itself a Zionist organisation, but in fact it supports some NGOs which promote the BDS, the abolishing of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and the like. Not exactly Zionist aims. This is what raised all the fury against them in Israel and in other countries, not their support of GLBTs, women or even the Arabs in pre-1967 Israel.

    One of their biggest critics in Israel is Ben-Dror Yemini, a journalist
    who supports the Geneva accord, definitely not a right-winger.

  • This sounds exciting.

  • Congratulations to NIF Australia!

    The New Israel Fund supports over 100 nonprofits a year and trains some 1,000+ to do their jobs better. Yet some critics can find within a half-dozen grantees enough half-truths to paint NIF as whatever they like. We will not fund any NGO that makes “promoting” BDS or ending Israel’s Jewish character a substantive component of their work. All of our NGOs are legally incorporated and work within the Israeli legal and legislative systems to make Israel a better, more equitable place to live for all citizens.

    If you’d like more information on our work, see this snapshot of our victories over the past 35 years and profiles of our many grantees here: http://www.WeAreNIF.org.

  • AustIsr says:

    Ben – a “substantive component” of these groups that you fund shouldn’t be BDS, etc. But what if a minor component of these groups’ activities is anti-Israel? Is this any less a travesty?

  • Dear Ben,

    You claim that NIF will “not fund any NGO that makes ‘promoting’ BDS or ending Israel’s Jewish character a substantive component of their work.” Yet, NIF continues to substantially fund Adalah, an NGO that has called for the replacement of Israel’s Jewish framework, and the Coalition of Women for Peace, a leader of the BDS movement. NIF is also the tax conduit for CWP’s tax deductible donations in the US, the UK, and Switzerland

    So, given that both of these grants violates NIF’s policies, why is NIF continuing to fund and/or serve as the conduit for tax exempt donations to these organizations?

    Anne Herzberg
    NGO Monitor

  • As I said before, critics can portray NIF however they please — as leftist extremists seeking to destroy Israel’s Jewish character, or as right-wing Zionist apologists seeking to normalize Palestinian suffering. Out of 100+ grantees a year, everyone on the right or left can find a grantee they disagree with.

    In either case, the full picture speaks more than half-truths: no single organization has done more for equality across gender, race, religion, culture or creed in Israel than the New Israel Fund.

    We’re ecstatic to see the Australian community organize a NIF presence there.

  • Shaun says:

    I see NGO Monitor have commented on this thread.

    It is interesting to see how selective conservative groups like NGO Monitor are in their scrutiny of NIF and other more progressive groups. Does the same scrutiny apply to organisations on the right who have provided millions of dollars to the settlement movement over the years? Somehow I doubt it.

    The attacks on NIF are just simply attempts to marginalise progressive voices on Israel.

  • Ben,

    I don’t understand your response to NGO Monitor (if it was a direct response). Set aside the generalizations of NIF (and of NGO Monitor) for a minute.

    They asked a very specific question about NIF’s continued funding of Adalah and CWP. Since you still fund those organizations, should we assume that you don’t consider their BDS activities a “substantive component of their work”?

    Are there any organizations that you have ceased funding once their BDS or anti-Zionist interests were pointed out to you (irrespective of who pointed them out)?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    hi David -heres a specific response: the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) has not received any direct grant from NIF for many years and has also been removed from NIF’s list of donor-advised organisations.

    As to why NGO Watch keeps repeating that CWP is a grantee despite public explanations tot he contrary by NIF – including locally that Itzhak Galnoor explained the situation when he was here – its all just part of the mudslinging I suppose.

  • Andre Oboler says:

    What about Adalah? That is a far bigger question and discussing CWP seems a diversion. The Adalah question was raised last year in an article here: http://972mag.com/nif-to-continue-supporting-adalah-mossawa-organizations/

    Adalah supports BDS, took part in Israeli Apartheid Week 2010, has called for a one state solution, and for changed to ensure Israel will not be a Jewish state. See for example: http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/israeli_apartheid_week_ngo_involvement

    NIF has made support of Adalah a clear policy. Did Robin Margo agree to be the Australian head of an organisation that is funding BDS and delegitimization? Will he agree to fund visits by pro-BDS speakers from these organisations to Australia, perhaps for Israel Apartheid Week in 2012? These questions are perfectly sane and rational when taken in light of NIF’s past activity. I wonder if Robin knew exactly what he was getting involved with, and whether he raised such issues with NIF.

  • Ari Briggs says:

    NIF funds groups campaigning to equate Israel with Apartheid
    – Aswat, B’Tselem, Adalah, ACRI, PHR-I & Breaking the Silence
    NIF funds groups aiding Golstone and other forms of UN Demonization
    – ACRI, Adalah, Bimkom, Gisha, Hamoked,PHR-I, PCATI, Yesh Din, B’Tselem
    NIF funds groups supporting the BDS movement
    – Mossawa, Machsom Watch, Women against Violence, CWP
    NIF funds groups who help prosecute Israeli officials around the world including Tzippi Livni
    – Adalah, PHR-I, PCATI, B’Tselem
    Would any Zionist Australians really want to be a part of such an organisation? Same question to Robin Margo.

  • I really appreciate everyone having this dialogue, especially since there is plenty of misinformation spread about NIF’s work and the work of our grantees.

    Ari, your list is at least half utterly untrue and the rest relies on falsely portraying one quote out of a mountain of published materials. Each of our grantees represent staffs of sometimes hundreds of people busy taking legal cases to court, lobbying in the Knesset, teaching community organizers, and doing so in every single city in Israel. Yet any evidence that our grantees are devotedly working for the downfall of a Jewish state isn’t credible.

    Why should Australians want to associate with New Israel Fund? Because ALL the reasons Israel’s supporters use to claim that Israel is a vibrant, pluralistic and open society are thanks to our grantees! The first women pilot? Won her right to fly planes through a court case by our grantees. The first gay couple to adopt children? Won their right through our grantees. Reinstating Orthodox Jews fired for not working on Shabbat? That Israel has a vibrant human rights community, like all first world nations do? …You get the idea.

    If you want to be a part of making Israel a better place to live, then you should get involved with the New Israel Fund.

    Shabbat shalom to everyone!

  • Strangely (or maybe not), I still didn’t get a straight answer to a simple question. Mandi said that NIF stopped funding CWP, but CWP still list them as a funding channel on their web site. No clear answer regarding Adalah.

    Instead of trading generalities and platitudes, one would think an open and transparent organization would be able to respond in open channel to specific questions.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi David – NIF no longer funds CWP or faciltates donations to it. NGO may well keep saying otherwise but NIF has copnfirmed that what I said in my previous post is correct. Unfortunately CWP’s site is not up to date on this and NIF cant control that.

    People should treat what NGO says about NIF with caution. Read this story confirming NIFs position on CWP and explaining that NGO had this information before knowingly issuing its latest ‘guideline’ with incorrect information.


    Im not sure what isnt clear here or how else to make it clear.

    As to Adalah it is and continues to be a NIF grantee.There are two points to be made here.

    First, civil rights is only one of NIF’s four broad areas of focus. The others are religious pluralism, support for economically disadvanteged groups in Israel and the environment. Promotion of the civil rights of all Israeli citizens is nonetheless an important part of NIF’s work and one to which it is strongly committed, despite the complexity and challenges of working in this area.

    Secondly, NIF emphatically supports Israel as the democratic state of the Jewish people, with full equality for all its citizens, and all its work, over more than 33 years, has been directed to realising the vision of a Jewish democratic state that is clearly set out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. There are good reasons why NIF funds some Israeli Arab organisations, such as Adalah, that sometimes make statements or support ideas that are inconsistent with that vision. Arab grantees, like all NIF grantees, must be legally recognised by the Israeli government and their main activity must not be inconsistent with NIF’s principles, but they, and Arab Israelis generally, cannot reasonably be expected to share the Jewish perspective on the Zionist narrative. If a grantee’s main activity strengthens Israeli society by promoting civil and human rights, pluralism and democracy, NIF will not cut it off on account of specific statements or conduct inconsistent with the Zionist narrative and vision. In reaching this position NIF has considered the long-term consequences for Israel of not remaining constructively engaged with Israel’s non-Jewish citizens.

    You may not agree with this position. But if so, that is matter of opinion not a question of lack of transparency.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Sorry references to NGO should be to NGO Watch

  • Mandi Katz says:

    third time lucky…NGO Monitor!!!!

  • NIF and Adalah says:

    To those who criticize the NIF for funding Adalah, please consider the following. Since the elections in February 2009, which brought one of the most right-wing government coalitions in the history of Israel to power, a flood of discriminatory legislation has been introduced in the Knesset that targets Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel in a wide range of fields.

    Adalah has compiled a list of 20 main new laws and currently-tabled bills that discriminate against the Palestinian minority in Israel which can be read here:

    Surely those who want to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state need to be advocating against the political parties that have initiated these laws as opposed the organisations that are struggling against them.

  • Gee, nice bit of “social engineering” going on here:

    4. “Admissions Committee” Law

    The Admissions Committees Law is due to be submitted for final reading before the Knesset during the week of 29 November 2010, and is expected to be passed into law. [6] The new legislation anchors into law the operation of “admissions committees,” bodies that select applicants for housing units and plots of land in “community towns” and in community neighborhoods in agricultural towns in Israel, which sit on “state land”. The committees include “a representative from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization”, quasi-governmental entities, and are used in part to filter out Arab applicants, in addition to other marginalized groups. Admissions committees currently operate in 695 agricultural and community towns, which together account for 68.5% of all towns in Israel and around 85% of all villages. Under the new law, admissions committees assess applicants according to whether they suit the “social life in a community” and fit into the “social, cultural fabric” of the town,[7] in addition to other specific conditions stipulated by the communal associations in each community. Entrenching the arbitrary criterion of “social suitability” in the law stands to perpetuate discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in accessing state land and further institutionalize racially-segregated towns and villages throughout the state.[8] The ILA instituted “social suitability” criteria in order to bypass the landmark Supreme Court decision in Qa’dan from 2000,[9] in which the court ruled that the state’s use of the Jewish Agency to exclude Arabs from state land constituted discrimination on the basis of nationality. Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court in 2007 to challenge the operation of admissions committees on behalf of the Arab Zubeidat family – who had been rejected by the admissions committee in the community town of Rakevet on the humiliating ground of their “social unsuitability” – as well as Mizrakhi Jewish groups and gays.[10] Adalah plans to challenge the law, if enacted, before the Supreme Court.

    Data Paper

    I couldn’t imagine too many free societies getting away with this.

  • Shaun says:

    Mandi – agree with you that you need to treat what NGO Monitor have to say with caution, which is hardly objective in their criticisms of NIF.

    I put NGO Monitor in the same category with other right wing advocacy groups like CAMERA and Stand with US.

  • Are left wing advocacy groups any better (or worse) than right wing advocacy groups? Seems like all of them find ways to represent their own agendas with selective reporting and commentary!

  • Shlomo says:

    Hi David, Andre and Gerald Steinberg,

    As people concerned about the welfare of Israel and her long term viability as a Jewish and democratic state, I’d be interested to know of any of these 20 anti-democratic laws currently up for debate in the knesset bother you ?

  • Hi,

    Some comments were removed. Please do not use the forum to promote unrelated events and products.

    Also, we ask that commenters leave a legitimate email address so that the moderators can contact them about any such concerns, rather than risk offending people in a public forum.

  • Right wing vs Left wing says:

    David — you are absolutely correct. There are some left-wing advocacy groups that are atrocious. As bad as some of the worst on the right.

    The issue with NGO-Monitor is not that it promotes a right-wing agenda. It is as entitled to do that just as anyone in a democracy like Israel is free to promote any political perspective. The problem is that NGO-M tries to portray itself as performing unbiased, objective research. This, it does not do. It has never investigated or monitored a pro-settlements organisation, for example. It targets only human rights organisations. And its reporting of them is downright misleading and based on selective — and at times plainly incorrect — evidence and guilt by association.

    NGO-M should come as clean about itself, its sources & uses of funds, its management and its political agenda as it insists the people it attacks (like NIF) do. Then we’ll be able to have a good, honest, fair-dinkum political debate worthy of our (and Israel’s) democratic values.

  • @Right wing vs Left wing – arguing that one biased/selective organization is more so than another (that is also biased/selective) is nonsense!

  • Right wing vs Left wing says:

    Where did I argue that…?!

  • frosh says:

    Interestingly, I witnessed a thread on Facebook this week whereby extreme anti-Israel people were bashing the NIF for being Zionist.

    One of the highlights of the conversation was: “I just dont [sic] like this focus on peace.”

  • Open letter from CWP regarding their NIF funding here

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi David – Here’s a link to NIFs statement in response.

    NIF has ceased funding CWP and stands by its earlier statements. A payment of $100 was mistakenly made in May. The decison to cease funding CWP was made some months ago as part of a review and not in response to NGO Monitor. I and others heard Yitzhak Galnoor explain the decison when he was in Australia a couple of months ago.

    As to the merits of the decision, NIF has funding guidelines, established by a Board and an international council which includes its CEO, Daniel Sokatch, Naomi Chazan, Martin Indyk and others.

    NIF does not fund organisations outside its guidelines, which means no funding for organisations that support BDS or one state.

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