A new bill aims to cut all governmental cooperation with the New Israel Fund and other foreign bodies in Israel that support organizations funded by foreign governments.
The legislation, proposed by Knesset member Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu Party), comes following a campaign against the fund conducted by the right-wing Zionist organization Im Tirtzu, which called on the government to cut all ties with the U.S.-based organization.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the NIF for causing the African migrant deal with Rwanda to be canceled, whereby illegal migrants would be deported to that country. NIF rejected Netanyahu’s accusation.
The left-wing Zionist organization, which is headquartered in New York with offices in various countries, supports various Israeli-based NGOs that are sometimes at odds with the state.
The NIF has granted more than $300 million to more than 900 Israeli organizations. In April, the organization announced a partnership with Anne Frank Fonds Basel — founded by Otto Frank, the only survivor of the Frank family — under which the Anne Frank Foundation will make new grants to organizations supported by the NIF “to advance their work toward equality and justice.”
NIF operations in Israel are carried out through Shatil, which, according to research by NGO Monitor, “creates and nurtures coalitions of NGOs; attempts to influence laws and bills in Israel; and holds workshops for staffers of NIF-funded NGOs.”
Knesset member Miki Zohar of the Likud Party told JNS that the NIF is involved in funding a wide range of activities in Israel, though stressed that some of its activities are “very problematic.”
In some instances, he said, the fund “damages Israeli security and the country’s international relations.”
As such, added Zohar, “it is time to deal with the issue and check that no organization in Israel — either from the right or left — that uses funds raised from all over the world is being monitored so that there won’t be a situation where these organizations act against the state.”
Zohar also called for legislation to protect Israeli democracy.
This legislative and public momentum against the NIF is going to run up against some centrist members of the coalition and the opposition, media and judiciary, which will argue that restricting the organization violates democratic rights.
Deputy speaker of the Knesset and Knesset member Yehiel “Hilik” Bar of the Labor Party told JNS that direct legislation against the NIF and cutting off all governmental ties with it would be a “bad mistake and the crossing of another red line.”
Bar said that “even if you don’t agree with all of the fund’s goals and actions, it promotes and backs many good and important projects in Israel,” adding that “this ‘declaration of war’ against the foundation in legislation is uncalled for.”
He also asserted that this is just another example of legislative action that “deepens the extremist, nationalist tendencies of this coalition.”
Furthermore, continued the Labor MK, “legislation against a specific organization — and against nonprofit organizations on the left in general — is a political maneuver fitting of a dictatorship, not a democratic regime like the one we have in Israel. If the government differs with some of the NIF’s activities, it is welcome to inspect it and operate accordingly against a specific activity. But anti-INF legislation is one dangerous step too far.”
“I call upon the government to back away from this law, and the sooner the better,” stated Bar.
‘No checks and balances’
Nevertheless, the NIF has backed organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The NGO Monitor research points to the fact that it granted $48,957 to the BDS backer Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) from 2008 to 2011. In May 2011, the fund declared that it was no longer giving money to CWP.
In another case, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights, which have been backed among others by the fund and by European governments, released statements criticizing Israel policy and actions during a wave of terrorism that began in 2015, without even mentioning attacks against Israeli civilians.
“Consistent with its political goal of eliminating Israel’s Jewish character, in 2007 Adalah drafted a ‘Democratic Constitution’ that called for replacing the Jewish foundation of Israel with a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural” framework,” noted NGO Monitor.
And during the Gaza war in 2014 and the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict known as the Goldstone Report, various NGOs backed by NIF “were active in repeating unsupported allegations of “deliberate, systematic and widespread targeting of Palestinian civilians,” in addition to “war crimes and crimes against humanity,” noted the research.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and president of the Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor, told JNS that the New Israel Fund “is the largest in terms of budget and most powerful political framework operating in Israel that is entirely outside the democratic process.”
Beginning after the Likud electoral victory in 1977, the NIF “functioned as an unaccountable, U.S.-based extra-parliamentary alternative government,” he said.
“They are registered as a nonprofit in the U.S., but not in Israel,” explained Steinberg. “Their board meetings and decision-making on funding takes place under a heavy veil of secrecy, which adds to the distrust among many Israelis.”
The head of NGO Monitor went on to say that “there are no checks and balances, and they slam and denounce even the most responsible Israeli critics and analysts.”
“While claiming to promote liberal and progressive values, the New Israel Fund is responsible for adding to polarization and intolerance among Israelis. For all of these reasons, the New Israel Fund has created a great deal of suspicion and anger,” concluded Steinberg.
Matan Peleg, the CEO Im Tirtzu, told JNS in an interview: “We decided to do this campaign because it cannot be that an international fund is so influential in Israeli domestic politics.”
Peleg clarified that Im Tirtzu is pleased about the important work many international organizations that work in Israel do, but here is a case where “a foreign organization is acting like the political opposition.”
He added: “It isn’t a coincidence that most of the organizations seeking to delegitimize Israel belong to the New Israel Fund.”
The New Israel Fund did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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