NEW YORK (JTA) — For years the New Israel Fund has been battling with critics who accuse it of funding groups working to delegitimize the Jewish state.
A new report from the Israeli grass-roots student group Im Tirtzu appeared to raise the stakes, however, as part of a campaign to blame NIF for the Goldstone report.
In a controversial ad appearing in Israeli newspapers featuring a caricature of NIF President Naomi Chazan sporting a horn, Im Tirtzu stated, "Fact! Without the New Israel Fund, there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes."
In fact, according to Im Tirtzu’s own study, 16 NIF-affiliated groups comprise just 14 percent of all the sources for the Goldstone report. Another analysis in the Im Tirtzu report alleges that 92 percent of all Israel-based negative reporting in the Goldstone report comes from the NIF groups.
Some reporting has confused the two figures, and incorrectly casts Im Tirtzu as blaming the NIF for 92 percent of the entire Goldstone report.
Im Tirtzu co-founder Ronen Shoval is careful to correct the mistaken impression in interviews, but says the overall take-away is correct — the Israeli-based reporting is much more damaging than that coming from other sources.
"When Hamas accuses Israel of war crimes, you shrug," he says. "When Israeli groups do it, you stop and look."
Shoval said the groups’ status as indigenous Israeli human rights groups compounded their sin of cooperation with the Goldstone commission, the body created by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of war crimes.
"The whole relevancy of the Goldstone report is that it gets its legitimacy from Israeli groups that accuse Israel of committing war crimes," Shoval said in an interview. "People give money because of its friendly name, the New Israel Fund."
Im Tirtzu acknowledges that the 16 NGOs named in its report are a small portion of the more than 300 groups funded by the NIF, many of them having to do with building infrastructure, assisting immigrants, and defending the rights of women, the disabled and religious and ethnic minorities. But the distinctions seem to mean little to Im Tirtzu; its Web site, in Hebrew, lumps the groups together, describing NIF as "investing in and developing hundreds of extreme leftist groups operating in various sectors."
The NIF and its affiliated groups have pointed out what they say are errors of fact in the Im Tirtzu report.
Im Tirtzu, for instance, claims that "hardly a word was heard from the organizations" when Sderot, the Israeli town near the Gaza Strip, was afflicted by rocket fire in the years before the Gaza war. In fact, Shatil, an infrastructure-building group and the NIF’s flagship in Israel, runs a number of projects in Sderot, as do other NIF affiliates.
Shatil ran a public forum in Sderot in the war’s immediate aftermath to make heard the concerns of its residents.
Shoval dismisses this as beside the point, saying, "Check the Goldstone report for a single mention of Sderot from an NIF group and get back to me."
Groups like B’Tselem, a human rights monitor, dispute the Im Tirtzu report’s repeated allegations that they "accuse the IDF of war crimes," instead saying that they uncovered allegations of abuse and left it to the relevant authorities — in Israel and overseas — to delve further.
"B’Tselem is not a commission of inquiry," said Uri Zaki, who directs the group’s Washington office, adding that B’Tselem was compiling facts and seeking independent action.
"There should be an investigation inquiry or committee," he said. "That is what Israel is required to do."
The Im Tirtzu report often cites material predating the Gaza war to make the claim that the groups are unreliable. In the case of B’Tselem, for instance, the report refers to a 2006 dispute over whether a Gazan killed in an IDF action was a terrorist or a fisherman.
Zaki said B’Tselem stands by the accuracy of its Gaza war reporting. The Israeli government in a report earlier this month acknowledged using the group as a source.
What is more striking about the Im Tirtzu report is where it essentially agrees with its targets: In entry after entry, under a subsection called "Main activity against IDF policy,” Im Tirtzu lists petitions to the Supreme Court against army actions.
For the groups, these petitions are a matter of pride; the Public Committee Against Torture, for instance, initiated a petition that resulted in 1999 in the Supreme Court banning torture. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and other pro-Israel groups have cited the ruling as exemplifying Israel’s democracy and its humanitarian character.
Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, a group that advocates for greater freedom of movement for Palestinians, reacted with surprise when a reporter read her the list of Im Tirtzu’s accusations, including two Supreme Court petitions demanding an increase in fuel and goods for the Palestinians.
"Our source of legitimacy is international law and human rights, which is not a political issue," she said. "This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what democracy means."
Not for Shoval.
"Israel is accused as guilty until proven innocent," he says of the organizations’ claims. "Israel has the burden of defense. According to principles of democracy and law, this is anti-democratic."