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:
The New Israel Fund, the target of attacks by right-wing organizations accusing it of supporting anti-Zionist groups, is discussing the possibility of specifying in its guidelines that grants will be given only to groups that accept the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
…According to three sources who have either seen the new proposed guidelines or were briefed on their content, the debate has also touched on the issue of defining the not-for-profit organizations that are eligible for receiving NIF grants. Board members and major donors are grappling with whether to require that grantees accept the idea of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus agreeing to the principle of Israel as a Jewish state.
I have had my share of disagreements with New Israel Fund, most significantly when it expelled Shammai Leibowitz from one of its fellowship programs after he spoke publicly on behalf of BDS and the story was picked up by Maariv’s resident red-baiter, Ben Caspit. But 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.
There can be no doubt that there is any Israeli Palestinian group which NIF currently funds that can support the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. Besides, this very notion is a condition demanded in the past by Bibi Netanyahu before he would negotiate with the Palestinians. So in effect, if the NIF “goes there,” it will have adopted Bibi Netanyahu’s political agenda. Can this be possible? Is this what things have come to? That 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? Does it believe such policy changes will inoculate it from attack?
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?
Thus, under attack from its right flank and its left, NIF will be buffeted by the political winds and have no clear course. It will be a sad day if it happens.
The Forward mentions that there is compromise wording under consideration:
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.
I should mention that this indeed is wording that I sometimes use in explaining my own Zionist philosophy with the addendum that I see Israel as the homeland of its Palestinian citizens as well. Unless this proviso is included then even the compromise wording is offensive. Besides, why should the NIF determine within its funding guidelines the nature of the Israeli state. This, it seems to me, takes NIF far afield from its core mission which is to build Israeli democracy and social justice.
This quotation from a former president of the group indicates a leadership that has become unnerved and unmoored in response to the onslaught against it:
Peter Edelman, a former president of the NIF board, said in a brief interview with the Forward that revising the guidelines was “not necessarily in response” to criticism. Edelman added, however, that “when there is unjust criticism, then you want to be as clear as possible about the issues.”
This is a clarity that is unnecessary and which will not diminish the attacks. It is a clarity that will drive away the Palestinian NGO community and render NIF less effective and less relevant in an Israeli context. It is the NIF playing by the enemy’s rules–and losing.
Finally, the headline of the Forward article is: New Israel Fund Considering Red Lines, which should have much more appropriately been, New Israel Fund Considering Blue and White Lines. If it adopts these guidelines I’d suggest it change its name to the New Jewish Israel Fund or the Not-Arab Israel Fund, unwieldy perhaps, but very descriptive.