SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – The New Israel Fund has opened a branch in Australia, sparking renewed debate about the pluralist, human rights organization.
NIF, which has raised in excess of $200 million for more than 800 nongovernmental organizations in Israel since 1979, will be led by Sydney-based barrister Robin Margo, the president of the Jewish community in New South Wales from 2008 to 2010.
“NIF strives to promote the vision of Zionism that is contained, indeed promised, in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, namely ‘equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,’ " said Margo, who represented the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in its long-running legal battle against Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, in a statement Monday announcing the formation of the organization.
Critics, however, have been quick to accuse the organization of supporting groups that seek to delegitimize Israel.
In a letter published in last week’s Australian Jewish News, Dr. Gerald Steinberg of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor wrote that NIF funds “political groups that promote BDS [the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel], demonization and the discredited Goldstone report."
The advent of NIF in Australia comes a year after the last-minute cancellation of a visit here by NIF President Naomi Chazan following a controversial campaign by the Israeli right-wing student organization Im Tirzu, which alleged that "without the New Israel Fund there could be no Goldstone report and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”
NIF rebuffed the accusations as baseless.
“Attempts by some in Australia and overseas to denigrate the NIF have failed to dent the enthusiasm we are seeing for the establishment of NIF in this country,” Margo said.
The Australian branch will be launched officially in June by Chazan, who will be speaking at the Limmud conference in Sydney.
NIF also has branches in America, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.