Category Archives: New Israel Fund

Chill the Champagne?

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark

In a world with a surfeit of bad news, two recent victories for freedom of expression are worth celebrating. Both were cases in which apologists for the occupation sought — unsuccessfully! — to stifle criticism of Israeli policies.

The first ruling, which came down last month from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), threw out claims that three University of California campuses — Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz — violated TItle VI of the Civil Rights Act by fostering antisemitic climates by allowing protests against Israeli policies to take place. As part of the ongoing “lawfare” campaign to silence pro-Palestinian speech, some Jewish UC students contended that the political speech expressed in these demonstrations created a “hostile” atmosphere and amounted to illegal harassment and intimidation. But encountering views contrary to one’s own, hardly constitutes harassment, the OCR concluded. As their letter closing the Berkeley complaint aptly stated, “In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance a reasonable student in higher education may experience.” That something so obvious would be contested through a series of formal complaints suggests that there is nothing “reasonable” about students cynically trying to silence political opponents. Continue reading

New Israel Fund, itself a victim, considers (and rejects) some muzzling of its own. UPDATE: the muzzlers fail.

I don’t have a lot to add to Richard Silverstein’s sobering post on the New Israel Fund’s proposal to denying grants to groups that do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The Forward brings distressing news that the New Israel Fund has prepared draft funding guidelines that would bar any Israeli NGO which did not endorse Israel as a Jewish state.

I have, throughout the Im Tirzu attacks, stood by NIF and championed its cause.  But if it follows through on such guidelines it will have succumbed to the venom spewed by Im Tirzu.  It will have caved to pressure from the Israeli right to conform its mission to a pro-Zionist one, rather than one that embraces the notion of Israel as a state that empowers all its citizens, including those who are not Jewish.

Silverstein goes on to point out how if this is a response to right wing attacks on New Israel Fund, it is unlikely to appease those critics.

The NIF, under enormous pressure from the Israeli right, determines that it must compromise with its values in order to appease its enemies? Does NIF really believe this will protect it from the worst of the hatred coming its way?

If this is what NIF’s leaders are thinking they are sadly mistaken.  If they cave, the right will see this as a sign of weakness and it will crowd in for what it hopes to be the kill.  And such compromise will destroy the organization’s credibility among its Arab donees.  Who in the Palestinian community will want to accept money from it under such conditions?

We have also supported the New Israel Fund many times on these pages, and been inspired by their work. One of my first posts here at Muzzlewatch was how impressed I was by a panel at JStreet’s conference organized by the New Israel Fund. Its most powerful moment came when a Jewish Israeli, Hagai El-Ad of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said he was not afraid of the Palestinian narrative of their own dispossession in the  creation of Israel being taught in Israeli schools. He was afraid of an Israel where such a thing would not be possible.

I think the New Israel Fund should apply the words of their donee El-Ad in this case. NIF has nothing to fear from groups who have a different vision of just what a “New Israel” would look like. Provided they advocate their vision democratically, such groups, many of them Palestinian citizens of Israel, can only strengthen the democratic values that sustain Jewish Israelis as well, values that the New Israel Fund has supported in the past. What they should fear is a country that outlaws such alternative visions, a country that would make it far more difficult for the NIF to do its important work.

UPDATE: Richard Silverstein reports that the attempts to muzzle grantees were defeated. Good news!

My source tells me the proposed guidelines will include a provision acknowledging Israel as a Jewish homeland.  But the language will also affirm that Israel is:

…A democracy dedicated to the full equality of all its citizens and communities.

Not perfect language, but Silverstein beileves the compromise to be in good faith.

–Jesse Bacon

Update on Rubinstein: New Israel Fund in UK Promotes Free Speech

[Ed. note: Cross-Posted from "The Third Way"]

The New Israel Fund is no stranger to controversy and it is to their credit that they have stood up to controversy and not yielded to outside pressure.

NIF was scheduled to host a talk with Haaretz Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, Danny Rubinstein on Monday September 3. Rubinstein is a long-time writer at Haaretz and is arguably Israels best-informed journalist on Palestinian politics, Palestinian society and the feeling on the Palestinian street. His view is a crucial one for anyone wishing to understand the politics and dynamics of not only the Palestinians, but of the Israel-Palestine conflict as whole.Ha'aretz reporter, Danny Rubinstein

But Rubinstein stirred up a storm at a UN conference in Brussels this past week. The conference, the United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, was already being targeted by groups who accused it of anti-Israel bias before it even began. Rubinstein leapt into the fray by saying that Israels discriminatory practices, both in the Occupied Territories and in Israel proper, render it an apartheid state.

NIF had been planning to present the talk by Rubinstein with the Zionist Federation, which had already disinvited Rubinstein from its conference held this weekend. The ZF immediately withdrew its sponsorship of the event, but NIF is going ahead with it as planned.

Im on record as disagreeing with the use of the word apartheid as being needlessly provocative and counter-productive. Thats true, but its also true that Arabs in Israel face serious problems of institutionalized discrimination despite their protection under law, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories live without the basic protections of their human and civil rights as the government of Israel, which is de facto the ruling government in the West Bank and Gaza (despite the departure of settlements and soldiers from within Gaza, Israel retains control of the borders, airspace, coastline and the provision of necessities such as water and electricity for the Strip). Whatever one thinks of the word, it is not calling these practices apartheid that disgraces and threatens to undermine Israels position in the world, it is Israels part in continuing the ongoing conflict and its tactics that do that.

Views like Rubinsteins might make some people uncomfortable, but they are still views that deserve a hearing and legitimate debate, especially coming from someone with as notable a background as Rubinstein. NIF fully recognizes that offering a forum for discussion of controversial views is not the same thing as agreeing with those views. NIF explicitly stated that: New Israel Fund does not endorse Mr. Rubinsteins view, nor his use of the term apartheid but, a s an organisation dedicated to equality, freedom of speech and social justice, it cannot censor an expression of views from someone whose dedication to Israels future and knowledge of current affairs are exceptional.

That should be the pervasive attitude of all groups interested in a better future in the Middle East. It in no way extends to countenancing conspiracy theorists or those who are expressing a prejudicial antipathy toward one side or the other. It simply means that the bounds of debate are no different on this issue than on any other important political topic of our time.

The New Israel Fund in the UK should be roundly applauded for promoting, rather than discouraging, a free and open debate on the issue of the occupation and working to enhance the scope of views presented rather than focusing on limiting them. Other groups, whether pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-occupation, pro-Jewish, pro-Arab or anti-whatever would do well to learn from NIFs object lesson.