The attacks against NIF and why J Street could use a little schooling from Peace Now


First of all, whatever one thinks of the New Israel Fund’s activities, even one of Im Tirtzu’s major funders says its ad attacking Naomi Chazan and NIF crosses the line.

Ori Nir, the American for Peace Now spokesman, is a more forgiving soul, and tried to tell me that in Hebrew, nu, "Keren" means "Fund" and "Horn," and maybe they didn’t realize how it would look when they ran the ad in English in The Jerusalem Post…

I don’t know. Call it keren, call it horn, if a newspaper in Sweden published it, we would all be saying it was anti-Semitic. No getting around it. This makes Naomi Chazan looks like she eats babies for breakfast. For lunch. And dinner. And snacks.

Second, how do they get to this figure, 90 percent of war crimes allegations? I’ve read the Ben Caspit "expose" based on the Im Tirtzu campaign in Ma’ariv, and I hate to say this about a fellow journalist, but, truly, it is crap. Who cares what "narrative" Caspit is drawn to? And what does he mean by "negative" and "positive" contributions to the report? 

When you sift the materials into positive (supporting Israel and the IDF) or neutral on the one hand and negative, instigating against Israel and the IDF on the other, you get much tougher numbers. If you count the submissions that only attack Israel and the IDF, there are 207. And 191 are from NIF groups!

Negative? Positive? Is a journalist writing this? Are the submissions accurate or not? We’ll never know, if all we read is Caspit. Notably, as I report here, the Israeli army is using the same sources to investigate itself. Perhaps Goldstone might have distorted the submissions, might have ignored mitigating submissions — but what does that have to do with the quality of the original submissions?

But this is my favorite part of Caspit’s piece:

With all that, one must add that NIF funds more than 300 groups and NGOs in Israel. The vast majority run beneficial social programs. They have no connection to what has been said here. And that, perhaps, is the heart of the matter. Is this activity by NIF meant to camouflage this radical activity subverting the foundations of the State of Israel?  Is all that jazz meant to blur and disguise the real thing, occurring beneath the service, exploding only once every several years, when Israel must mount a war in defense of hundreds of thousands of citizens that have been bombed for seven years by a terrorist organization?

Yes, this is the point when the crazy street person seems to be making sense — and then, well, not. "Hey, wait a sec — NIF does a lot of good work! Most of what it does is good work! Which must mean … I’ve stumbled onto the most expensive, cumbersome, self-defeating conspiracy to defame Israel, ever! A conspiracy that actually strengthens Israel through social service programs so once every couple of years it can pay people to say nasty things about it! Why, it’s… diabolical!"

Good Lord.

Third, this does not stand in isolation: Now, Alan Dershowitz — the civil libertarian, the constitutional expert — gleefully replies "absolutely!" when asked if he thinks Goldstone is a "moser." This is a very serious charge — moserim are put to death. (And Dershowitz even recites the prayer wishing "no hope" upon "malshinim," or squealers. I knew Sunday school pays dividends!)

Is this what Israel wants from its defenders? Jews who make us mad? We kill ’em! (Was this the von Bulow defense? Sunny talked too much?)

If you’re NIF or one of its defender, how do you respond?

One model comes from Ori Nir, in his statement for Americans for Peace Now:

The NIF grantees that are quoted in the UN report on Operation Cast Lead were performing their duty as Israeli human rights organizations by monitoring and reporting on controversial policies of their government and their military. Such human rights organizations are an integral part of any vibrant democracy and as such, they are an integral – and vital – part of Israel’s civil society.

The New Israel Fund is an asset to Israel’s democracy, as are its grantee organizations. Attempts to silence them should not be tolerated by the Israeli public and by friends of a free and democratic Israel worldwide.

We call on all Israelis and on American friends of Israel to join us in denouncing and rejecting these contemptuous attempts to muzzle Israel’s civil society groups, to quell dissenting voices in Israeli society and to demonstrate civility when discussing and debating issues of public policy.

The focus: Israel’s precious democracy.

J Street takes a diffirent approach, bringing, of all things, bizarro evangelical theology into the mix.

Im Tirtzu’s political leanings are clear. This is a pro-settler group, with $100,000 of funding from Christians United For Israel, a conservative Christian Zionist organization run by Pastor John Hagee, who once stated that God sent Hitler to drive Jews to Israel. Funds collected for Im Tirtzu in the United States are directed through a New York City-based charity which funds construction over the Green Line.

NIF likes this tack and has also adopted it:

It comes as no surprise to discover that this new group is funded by the same abundant money that flows to extremist settlers’ organizations, including a sizable contribution from John Hagee’s “Christians United for Israel” — a group that once stated that “Hitler was carrying out God’s will.”


Okay, first, it’s not precisely CUFI, but its affiliated John Hagee Ministries that donated the money, and actually, in toto, the amount was $200,000 over two years.

But doesn’t this smack a little of the attacks NIF is now deflecting? As in, one or two or even 16 of over 300 organizations it gives money to says something controversial and suddenly every single funder in the group’s history is held accountable? Don’t NIF and its defenders call this guilt by association when their critics do it? Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s director, tells me no: "It’s important for people to know what is he root of the people who are undermining Israel’s democracy," he said. "People should make their independent judgments of NIF and its agenda and CUFI and its agenda based on the organizations they fund."

Well, yes, but Hagee’s big bucks go to immigrant absorption, medical care and the most pareve of educational institutions (I love that a Texas evangelical is funding the Leo Baeck center)  — is it fair, a la Caspit, to identify it solely with Im Tirtzu? And is it fair to presume that Hagee was familiar, ahead of the curve, with the route Im Tirtzu would take?

Ben-Ami kind of slunk by that one: "If CUFI is going to withdraw its support and say this is an organization they don’t want to be behind, I would be the first to welcome that decision." Fair enough: Ari Morgenstern, a spokesman for CUFI and Hagee Ministries has now "objected" to the ad but would not say if Hagee will continue to fund the group.

And why, why, why bring up the Hitler stuff? It’s ancient, Hagee has repudiated it said he regrets the sermon,* and, most perniciously, it was never as if Hagee was wishing for another Hitler — it was a clumsy theological explanation of an inexplicable time. "Daddy, where was God during the Holocaust?" my 9-year old blurted out from the back seat the other day, and as much as it pains me to confess it, I couldn’t come up with anything smarter than Hagee’s explanation (although I knew better than to try — "That’s a good question for Rabbi Amy" was my wimpout answer.)

Here, Ben-Ami skated into signiifcantly questionable territory: "We’ve made no secret since the start of J Street that we consider the extreme versions of Christian Zionist theology of great danger to the Jewish people and to Israel."

Really? Dangerous? Wasn’t J Street about creating more than one avenue for people to support Israel?

How does that work when you’re throwing up roadblocks?

*UPDATE: Richard Silverstein points out that Hagee’s statement fell short of a repudiation.

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