NEW YORK (JTA) – A Nobel laureate and the sister-in-law of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are heading a group of intellectuals starting a philanthropic fund to combat what they describe as a “left-wing assault” on Israeli public opinion.
Robert Aumann, a Hebrew University mathematician who won the 2005 Nobel Prize in economics, and Daphne Netanyahu, an Israeli law professor, trotted out the plans for the Israel Independence Fund last week in New York at a board meeting of the Zionist Organization of America.
According to Aumann and Netanyahu, the fund would dole out grants to nongovernmental organizations in Israel with right-wing bents in an effort to offset the plethora of left-wing groups that have cropped up in the Jewish state over the past several decades.
These left-wing groups have worked with Israeli Arabs and other communities to help turn Israeli public opinion away from Zionism, Aumann and Netanyahu said.
“Gradually the radical leftists, their views, became more extreme and their views became more mainstream,” Netanyahu said. “They have views that Golda Meir, who was considered a dove, wouldn’t even hear, like giving a state to the Palestinians inside of the State of Israel. She would have turned red. And suddenly it is mainstream.
“What actually is happening in Israel is a slow but not so slow, very planned attack on Israeli public mind, and the attack is coming from the left, and they are controlling all of the important posts that create public opinion and discourse.”
Organizers of the Israel Independence Fund are seeking $500,000 in startup money, then hope to raise $5 million in its first year of operation. They are awaiting not-for-profit 501c3 status in the United States, for which they applied seven months ago.
The fund, which already is incorporated as a not-for-profit in Israel, is accepting donations through American non-profits.
Though the fund is not yet giving out money, the organizers presented a list of possible groups they might want to support.
Among them are Mattot Arim, a grassroots organization that aims to “educate” Israeli public opinion leaders on such matters as why Israel should not have evacuated the Gaza Strip; the Maof Research and Education Center, which teaches Russian Jews about Zionist ideals; and the Jabotinsky Order of Israel, which is dedicated to commemorating the founder of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist camp.
Aumann, who won the Nobel for his work in game theory, told ZOA leaders that the rise of the left has put Israel on the brink of destruction as it was just before the Six-Day War in 1967 – especially if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert goes through with his current peace plan.
“If we follow the path of Olmert, we will return to those days,” Aumann said. “We will be faced with physical annihilation.”
He added that if Israel follows its current liberal social policy, “We will obliterate the Jewish heritage of the State of Israel, and it is all our own fault because we have left our Zionist ideals.”
Israel Independence Fund leaders say that Jews across the world have essentially been duped into giving their support to socially progressive NGOs that in reality promote anti-Zionist ideals.
Most of the criticism was levied at the New Israel Fund, which gives away about $25 million per year to progressive groups in Israel and has funded more than 800 NGOs since it started 28 years ago.
The unabashedly left-wing group has frequently been the target of right-wing criticism. The New Israel Fund has received gifts and pledges of $40 million from the Ford Foundation to help Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.
An NIF spokeswoman said she had not heard of the Israel Independence Fund. After looking at the group’s Web site, Naomi Paiss said the underlying premise of the initiative is false.
“It appears to be the New Israel Fund in a Bizarro world, where the right wing actually feels itself to be a victimized minority,” she said.
In reality, Paiss added, it is the views of “right-wing Jewish and Evangelical Christian funders” that are “overrepresented in Israel.”