NIF v. NGO Monitor


NGO Monitor has been plugging away at the New Israel Fund and the groups it supports for years, with successes at times. (Recently, for instance, it played a role in exposing a staffer at NIF-funded B’Tselem for likening Israeli actions to Nazi practices; she resigned.)

The NIF has not mounted a high-profile counter-campaign, limiting its replies to direct responses to NGO Monitor or to journalists.

Until now: In a May 24 advertisement, not only has the NIF replied, it mimicked exactly the format of an earlier NGO Monitor ad campaign, entitled "NIF has crossed the line."

I’m a luddite and so I’ll leave it to later to reproduce each ad, but I’ve linked them, above. The format is to contrast a set of statements in a left-hand column with seemingly contradictory research in the right hand column.

Here’s a quick assessment of the arguments:

For the most part, NGO Monitor’s quotes seem accurate. The problem is one that constantly crops up in this debate: NIF adheres to certain principles in defense of Israel, but says it will not force its grantees to adhere to the same principles. (I’ll deal with the exceptions in a minute.) In other words, NIF distinguishes principles from criteria. This may be a weak argument, it may be corrupt, but — perhaps for the sake of getting across an ad-simple message — it is not one NGO Monitor engages. Instead, it contrasts statements of grantees with those of the NIF, a manipulation that could lead the reader to believe they are one and the same.

The exceptions include a statement by NIF Israel director Rachel Liel that the funder will not grant moneys to organizations that deny Jews the right to self-determination That at least is less fudgy than NGO Monitor’s tactic of confusing NIF with its grantees — Liel is not describing NIF’s manifesto, but its criteria, so there’s no confusion. The problem, however, is that Liel made the statement this year; NGO Monitor’s examples date from at least two years ago. It’s not clear if Liel is articulating a new position.

Another exception is also problematic. NGO Monitor quotes Liel as saying grantees did not testify before the Goldstone Commission, but uncovers evidence that at least three did. On the other hand, it also cites as contradictory evidence groups whose reports were incorporated by the U.N. commission that charged Israel with war crimes — but does not reproduce Liel’s follow-up quote: "There is a difference between publishing a report describing the conduct that in their opinion  should be examined and going to Goldstone to hand over evidence."

NIF also reproduces quotes — all of them from Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director — and contrasts them with NGO Monitor’s actual work. (Structurally, of course, NIF could not duplicate NGO Monitor’s manipulation, because Steinberg’s group does not — as far as we know — fund other groups.)

Steinberg issued a press release in response, although it’s not point by point. I’ll try to break it down:

*NIF contrasts Steinberg’s quest for NGO transparency with the fact that NGO Monitor is, to say the least, opaque in how it describes its funding. It lists four donors under a weaselly "includes" clause on this page. Steinberg does not address this claim in his response.

*NIF quotes Steinberg describing what he calls "political warfare against Israel" and charges: " NGO Monitor’s claim that legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is tantamount to sedition is not just wrong, but dangerous." But NGO Monitor does not target legitimate criticism; it aims to uncover criticism that it argues is illegitimate. Its arguments may not stand up, but NIF is guilty here of NGO Monitor’s fudginess, perhaps to an even greater extent. At least a close read of the NGO Monitor ad makes evident the manipulation — NIF quotes on the one side, grantee quotes on the other. In this case, NIF is flat out telling readers that NGO Monitor rejects legitimate criticism. This is  a "distortion," as Steinberg says in his release.

*NIF contrasts Steinberg’s decrying of ideological foregone conclusions with his associaton with a founder of the settler movement. This is, as Steinberg says, a smear: Guilt by association. (The same association tying Steinberg and Yisrael Harel includes Natan Sharansky.) It’s no excuse that NGO Monitor has been guilty of the same exercise multiple times, impugning a group because of a former association of an employee or board member, without even explaining what about the former association is objectionable.

*NIF quotes Steinberg, accurately, as saying "the very controversial decision to re-open Route 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Palestinian vehicles was largely the result of pressure from these NGOs. When the first Israeli is attacked due to this decision, NIF officials and donors will be blamed." The ad then notes that the decision was actually the Supreme Court’s; the NGOs’ "pressure" was a proper manifestation of filing a lawsuit and seeking a decision.

As NIF points out, this is not the first time NGO Monitor has faulted NGOs for bringing cases before Israel’s courts. There is an internal contradiction here: NGO Monitor also argues against using international arenas to make these cases, saying that Israel’s independent judicary is capable of handling complaints, and then faults the groups for using exactly that judiciary. There is also a deeper question raised here: The courts are an instrument of the Jewish state, a triumph of Zionism. NGO Monitor does not attack the decisions as much as it attacks NGOs for filing suit; how does this comport with correct procedure? NIF’s claim that this  "demonstrates disrespect for an independent judiciary" is not so easy to refute.

Steinberg, in his press release, does not even try. Instead he accuses NIF of "trying to stifle debate."

Not really. It sounds like both sides are still standing, and shouting. Plenty of debate going on here.

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