Changes at the New Israel Fund


The New Israel Fund is considering changing some of its funding guidelines in a move that could preclude it from continuing to give money to some organizations on the far left of its funding spectrum, the Forward reported last week. According to the story, which was based on information given to the paper from three anonymous sources who have seen the proposed guidelines, the new rules would stipulate that any NIF grantee must accept the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and must agree to the principle of a Jewish homeland in Israel.

The Forward reports:

Currently, NIF is funding some groups that do not necessarily accept the two-state idea or the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. One such group that has been mentioned by Israeli critics is Mada al-Carmel, an Arab-Israeli social research center in Haifa that has published papers questioning the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.

NIF has yet to finalize the discussion on revised funding guidelines, or to adopt any resolution regarding the mention of accepting Israel as a Jewish state as a criteria for funding. According to individuals who are involved in the process, one formulation being discussed is recognizing Israel as the “homeland” of the Jewish people — a description that falls short of the definition of Israel as a “Jewish state” but would avoid alienating Israeli-Arab not-for-profits that are on NIF’s grant list.

Fundermentalist’s take: NIF’s most vocal critic, NGO Monitor, issued a news release hailing the move as “a significant change for NIF.”

NIF refused to comment to The Fundermentalist about the Forward’s story or the proposed changes, other than to say that it was premature.

“Some things were right and some things were wrong,” a spokeswoman for the organization said. “This is a process that started last fall, when some requested a 360-degree change.” The NIF said that it would be ready to talk about its changes publicly in early fall, when it nears the one-year anniversary of its new CEO, Daniel Sokatch. 

The organization has gone through some significant changes under Sokatch. Logistically, it moved its headquarters from Washington to New York; Sokatch operates out of San Francisco, where he lives.

The NIF is at the end stage of a period of introspection, the spokeswoman said. But she rejected any notion that the organization is changing due to pressure from the outside. 

“We took a careful look at who we are,” she said. “NIF is not going to morph into a very different organization. We have 32 years of accomplishments, and we know what we stand for and what our values are. We do think that making them clearer to ourselves and our stakeholders was important. We are probably going to be more specific in some policy areas than we had been in previous years.” 

It has been a tough year in some ways for the organization. The upstart group Im Tirtzu accused NIF of funding groups that supplied information used in the Goldstone Report — giving more fodder, however off the mark or unfair it might have been, to NIF’s longtime detractors.

At the same time, as we have reported in the past, NIF has been able to use the controversy to boost its fund raising, and it is seeking to move forward out of a position of strength, the spokeswoman said.

“We have been radically misrepresented by people who do not have the interests of NIF or Israel at heart. We endeavor to be as forthright as possible and we are never going to compromise our principles to satisfy our adversaries,” she said. “Anybody who thinks that was the impetus was wrong. We need to be true to our own values and perspective.”

She was vague about whether some organizations that receive funding from NIF would face cuts.

“Anytime that you review your policies and guidelines, it will have some impact on your future decisions if you are a responsible funder,” she said. “You don’t go through a careful process of your strategic thinking and how do we best actualize our values without it having some impact in the real world.”

Recommended from JTA