JERUSALEM (JTA) — There is by now a familiar pattern whenever the New Israel Fund is criticized: The critic is attacked as a right-wing extremist, a liar, an enemy of human rights, democracy, and open dialogue.
This, of course, is exactly how NIF has responded to a letter my organization, Im Tirtzu, a Zionist student group in Israel, has published in American Jewish newspapers. Our ad asserts that NIF-funded groups are once again accusing Israel of war crimes after we defended ourselves against relentless Hamas rocket attacks. And then our ad asks a simple question: Does the new president of NIF, Brian Lurie, stand by these false accusations? And if he doesn’t, what will he do to assure Israelis that he will be an agent of reform at the New Israel Fund?
In response to this perfectly legitimate question, NIF flatly denies the central role its groups played in supplying “evidence” of Israeli wrongdoing to the Goldstone Commission (over 100 footnotes in the Goldstone Report cite NIF groups); claims that none of its groups are accusing Israel of war crimes today, and proclaims itself the victim of an attempt by my organization, whose budget and influence are a miniscule fraction of NIF’s, to suppress the “right to dissent.”
The claim that a small student organization which questions the New Israel Fund is attempting to curtail debate is an accusation worthy of Orwell. Im Tirtzu isn’t suppressing debate — we are participating in it. And the fact that NIF cannot respond honestly to the questions we pose should be a warning to its donors and supporters about NIF’s actual commitment to open, democratic dialogue.
After Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s latest attempt to stop terrorist attacks on its civilians, we watched to see if NIF had learned any lessons from the role that its fundees played in creating and promoting the ruthlessly biased Goldstone Report.
Unfortunately, it has not. NIF first claimed in a statement to reporters on Thursday that “not one of the human rights organizations Im Tirtzu attacks accused Israel of war crimes in the recent Gaza action.” It now concedes that Adalah has accused Israel of “a serious violation of the laws of war.” And the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel co-signed a letter saying that there is “concrete evidence indicating the commission of war crimes by both parties.”
If words have meaning, then NIF-funded groups have accused Israel of committing war crimes in Operation Pillar of Defense.
The reason we posed the question we did to Lurie and the New Israel Fund is because we wanted to hear from NIF’s leaders whether they stood by the accusations of the groups that they fund. We are tired of the game that NIF plays: funding organizations in Israel that slander and delegitimize the Jewish state, while insisting to donors and journalists in America that nothing untoward is taking place.
It’s time for this game to end. It’s time for NIF to be held accountable — and to hold itself accountable — for the terrible campaigns of accusation carried out by the groups that it funds in Israel. Unfortunately, what we have seen from this latest episode is that the NIF is still not taking responsibility for the extremism it funds, and still thinks it can attack its critics into submission.
NIF’s new president has yet to respond to our letter. If he genuinely believes in the talking points NIF often cites — that NIF is committed to open debate, transparency, and accountability — he will take this opportunity to show that those values begin at home. He can say whether the New Israel Fund will continue promoting baseless accusations against Israel, or whether NIF will begin a much needed process of reform. NIF’s critics are watching, and we are not going away.
Ronen Shoval is the founder and chairman of Im Tirtzu.