On Thursday the New Israel Fund issued a statement reiterating its commitment to a "democratic Israel in which progressive voices are not intimidated, threatened and misrepresented" (read the statement here).
The missive comes in the wake of broadsides against NIF for its support of groups critical of Israeli government institutions or actions, including, most recently, Breaking the Silence, an organization that this month distributed a booklet of anonymous testimonials purportedly by Israeli soldiers alleging IDF misconduct and inhumane treatment of Palestinians durning Israel’s military operation in Gaza last January. After its distribution, a pair of hosts on Israeli Army Radio jokingly suggested breaking the bones of Breaking the Silence. NIF did not find the remark funny.
NIF’s statement on Thursday, issued to "set the record straight on some issues that continue to be debated in Israel and elsewhere," called the Army Radio hosts’ remarks "inflammatory" and cited other recent attacks on NIF or its grantees, including a critique by NGO Monitor that I wrote about in a June 17 blogpost. The JTA blogpost is cited in NIF’s statement.
The problem NIF is grappling with is that it funds groups that practice or advocate for things that are anathema to many Jews and Israel supporters (and NIF supporters) — such as calling for divestment from Israeli companies, eliminating Israel’s Jewish character and criticizing the Israel Defense Forces. Some of NIF’s grantees advocate positions the NIF itself finds objectionable. But because NIF considers itself a "big tent organization" (in the words of communications director Naomi Paiss) and, as Thursday’s statement says, "is committed to a democratic Israel in which progressive voices are not intimidated, threatened and misrepresented," such behavior does not result in automatic censure or the halting of funding.
The question for NIF is where are the group’s red lines? Just because the NIF is committed to free debate in Israel doesn’t mean it should provide financial support to those it believes are on the wrong side of the debate. The NIF owes its donors and the Jewish community an answer to the question of when a grantee’s behavior crosses the line.
Here’s what Paiss, NIF’s spokeswoman, told me about NIF’s red lines:
Our red lines now include those established by Israeli law governing amutot [Israeli nonprofits]. You have to be an amuta [Israeli nonprofit] to get a grant from us. Generally it’s the amuta law, which of course requires that organizartions don’t work against the State of Israel. The Israeli government keeps a fairly close eye on amutot.
Paiss also said the group’s red lines include:
- Engaging in racist behavior.
- Demonizing any particular group.
- Using or advocating violence as a means of effecting social change.
- Engaging in activities not supportive of NIF goals of promoting civil rights and social justice for all Israelis.
"We are constantly engaging with our grantees and Shatil clients in spirited debates," Paiss told me. However, she said, "We are reluctant to impose are own positions on specific issues on grantees."